Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma
AVSM, SM (Retd)
India suspended cross-border trade, rather the cross-line of control (LoC) trade with Pakistan on 18th April 2019 being carried out between the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK). The step has been taken by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) invoking National Security reasons and a step to further choke terrorism in J&K. The move comes two months after a suicide attack by the JeM killing 40 CRPF personnel in Kashmir’s Pulwama region. This has evoked a mixed response from various political parties but overall has been welcomed as a step in the right direction.
In ancient times, the cross border trade has been in vogue in the form of ‘Silk Route’, ‘Incense Route’, ‘Spice Route’, ‘Tea Route’, ‘Salt Route’, ‘Tin Route’ and ‘Amber Route’, at times spanning regions and continents with mostly the Barter System. At times the merchants with their camels/ horses used to be out for months before returning to their native place/country. During the middle age, organizations such as the ‘Hanseatic League’, aimed at protecting interests of the merchants and trade became increasingly prominent. Along the Silk Route, religion and culture travelled, ideas were exchanged and friendship and understanding between East and West were experienced. Trade routes from the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir princely state existed to Pakistan and China, at times linking the Silk/Spice route. The partition of India in 1947 led to the termination of most of the links/routes between India and Pakistan.
Cross-LoC trade was opened in 2008 during Mr. Vajpaye’s regime as part of a series of Confidence Building Measures (CBM) put in place between 2004 and 2008 to promote local trade and better contact between the divided regions of J&K. Trade is carried out through two Trade Facilitation Centres at Salamabad, Uri and Chakkan-da-Bagh, Poonch. The trade is carried out four days a week and is meant to exchange 21 items, largely on barter system.
On an earlier occasion too, the LoC trade was temporarily discontinued in 2015 when a Pakistani driver was found involved in drug trafficking. This time the LoC trade has been suspended since the Indian government had been receiving reports that routes were being misused by Pakistan based elements for funneling illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency.
Though there are issues of sudden suspension of trade and loss to small traders which can be compensated. The entire move should not be looked at through narrow prism, parochialism and opportunistic politics but at a larger canvas of National Security and permanent rooting out of terrorism from J&K. Largely the reasons for suspension of LoC trade are legitimate & logical and the major reasons/issues are outlined subsequently.
Firstly, it has been revealed beyond doubt that unscrupulous and anti National elements are using this route as a conduit for Hawala Money, Drug Trafficking and Illegal Weapons under the garb of this trade, which has been sustaining terrorism in J&K. Though the trucks entering both sides on these two Trade Facilitation Centres are thoroughly checked but foolproof measures are not in place to prevent crossing of hidden weapons, drugs and FICN. Further, it is a very laborious exercise to check every item and every place. The answer lies in ‘Full Truck Deep Scanners’ which need to be installed soonest.
Secondly, the benevolent trade for small timers on both sides has changed its character to mostly Third Party Trade and products from other countries and regions are finding their way through this route. Chinese and SE Asian products are mostly being traded from across the border. This is against the very spirit of barter trade for two parts of Kashmir.
Thirdly, scrutiny has revealed that some individuals who have crossed over to Pakistan and joined militant organization, have opened trade firms in Pakistan. These trading firms are ‘Hand in Glove’ and under the control of militant organization in Pakistan. Further, a large number of trading groups working on the LoC are being operated by people closely connected/associated with banned terrorist organizations involved in fuelling separatism in Kashmir valley, said NIA. A significant portion of the ‘Trade Funds’ created as ‘Hawala’ are being used to sustain home grown terrorist and stone pelters. This money also goes to organizations like Jamat, JKLF and others. Hence, it is a final nail in the coffin to crack down on all sources of terror funding and close the tap on such separatist organizations. This will obviously cripple terrorism in Kashmir.
Fourthly, it has also been revealed that after the withdrawal of MFN status from Pakistan after Pulwama terror attack, Pakistan has started diverting trade through LoC route to avoid ‘Huge Tax’ as Pakistan is economically getting strangulated.
Lastly, closing of the LoC trade is a temporary phenomenon with the aim of reviewing the Terms of the Trade and streamline the procedures with stricter regulatory mechanism. Let’s all understand the logic and need and not fall prey to petty regional politics. Action taken in the way of National Security should be taken in ‘Right and Long Term Perspective’ rather than penny ‘Short Term Losses/Pains’. Ultimately the aim is to permanently weed out terrorism from J&K and make it as ‘Jannat’ once again.
Lt. Gen. Rakesh Sharma