Srinagar: The ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is steadily ceding ground to its ally the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on all Kashmir-centric matters. The latest surrender is the suspension of trade across the Line of Control between the two divided parts of Kashmir.
The cross-LoC trade used to be the PDP’s great achievement, the “mother of all confidence building measures”. The PDP’s founder, the late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, took great pride in claiming to be instrumental in starting the cross-LoC trade. His daughter, current chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, recently said that “no one should even think about stopping cross-LoC trade”.
A bus service was started between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar in April 2004, followed by cross-Loc trade in December 2008. Both initiatives were taken by the UPA government in New Delhi headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
The BJP has been trying to shut down the cross-LoC trade under the garb of national security. The closure of not only the trade but also the bus service has now been proposed by the National Investigation Agency (NIA). The NIA, which has in recent weeks arrested several Hurriyat leaders and raided homes and offices of many, is aiming to spread its wings in the embattled state. The BJP has immediately endorsed the NIA’s proposal.
A local news agency reported that BJP state president for Jammu and Kashmir, Sat Sharma, said on Wednesday that his party supports the suggestion of the NIA. “If security agencies think that the trade is harming national security, then the BJP supports the agencies,” Sharma was quoted to have said.
The statement came a day after BJP spokesman Virender Sharma told reporters in Jammu that the cross-border trade must be stopped, as it is one of the sources of terrorism funding. “We fully support the NIA. We demand that the cross-LoC trade be stopped. NIA and other agencies have said earlier as well that Hawala money and narcotics were being smuggled via these routes to fund terrorism in Kashmir,” he said.
The PDP, on its part, is haplessly putting forth arguments to sustain the cross-LoC activity. Last month, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti travelled to Uri to oversee the infrastructure development at Kaman Post and Salamabad Trade Center. She emphasised on promoting the trade and people-to-people contact, and recalled her father’s commitments in this regard. To her dismay, the trade activity has remained suspended since she visited the area.
On the 18th Foundation Day of her party, last Saturday, Mehbooba emphatically said that her party would not allow the closure of cross-LoC trade. She said the PDP would continue to work for opening more routes across the LoC.
Mehbooba sought to underplay reports of narcotic smuggling through LoC. “There are many difficulties through the Wagah border. Marijuana and ganja comes from there, but no one talks about closing it. Just because a mistake happens on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road, we should not talk about closing it. We will not allow that to happen,” she said.
On Wednesday, government spokesman Naeem Akhtar reiterated the necessity of cross-LoC trade. Ever since the trade was started, the PDP had been installing hoardings across Kashmir indicating directions and distance to Muzaffarabad, to showcase the move as a vital step in resolving the Kashmir dispute.
Akhtar on Wednesday termed the cross-LoC trade a confidence building measure (CBM) of great significance for J&K. He said it was a step that could pave the way for larger reconciliation in the region.
According to an official release, Akhtar said that Mehbooba Mufti has made it clear that both the central and state governments are keen to continue the cross-LoC trade. He said that the government can install scanners for scrutiny of vehicles carrying commodities across the LoC.
The spokesman also referred to a news report on the assertion of the central government that cross-LoC trade will not be stopped. He referred to a meeting between Mehbooba Mufti and Union home secretary Rajiv Mehrishi at Srinagar on Monday.
Observers say that closure of LoC trade will be a major setback to PDP’s politics in Kashmir. “The PDP has already lost on the human rights front, and on dialogue with pro-freedom groups. This will be another, if not the last, in the coffin of PDP’s Kashmir-centric politics,” a senior journalist told Kashmir Reader.