Srinagar: The much-hyped initiative of cross-border trade that was started under Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) between India and Pakistan in 2008 has hit a new low, say businessmen, as the government’s anti-trade policies have left nearly the entire business community disinterested in continuing trade via cross-border routes.
Community leaders, many of them insecure following the National Investigation Agency (NIA) raids on top businessmen, told Kashmir Reader that cross-Line of Control (LoC) trade is on a perpetual decline, with more traders discontinuing their normal business across these routes.
Speaking to Kashmir Reader over the phone, Chairman Cross LoC Traders Union Asif Lone said the continuous ignorance and clampdown by the government and its agencies have reduced the number of registered businessmen to just 15 from a whopping 638.
“The diminishing numbers itself speak how much has trade flourished at LoC. We are now in the firm belief that we were just made victims of CBMs, and there was no sincerity from government in doing so. We were offered verbal promises when there was a craze among government corridors to start the trade, and now when government agencies are themselves creating an atmosphere of insecurity, expecting government to do better is just futile unless they sincerely do so,” said Lone.
He said that Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti too gave assurances last month of several facilities like a banking centre, scanners etc., to be provided for hassle-free trade between the two countries.
“But they were all verbal assurances, and nothing happened on ground. The sincerity of the government to flourish trade relations between the two countries can be gauged by the fact that earlier, there used to be more than 30 trucks running on the route on a daily basis, and now the number is between eight to 10,” Lone said.
Seen as the biggest CBM back in 2008, the decision to start trade across the LoC was taken in the follow-up of a meeting between the Indian prime minister and the president of Pakistan in April 2005.
Currently 21 items have been approved for trade between the two parts of Kashmir. Commodities worth nearly INR 15 billion ($220 miillion) were exported to Pakistan on the Uri-Muzaffarabad and the Poonch-Rawalakot routes, based on the prices of goods provided by traders during the last three years up to the end of the 2015-16 financial year.
On the other hand, imports were made during the same period of nearly Rs 13 billion ($190 million). That’s up from 2011-12, when exports to Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PaK) were worth Rs 3.2 billion ($44 million), while imports were at Rs 5.31 billion ($78 billion).
President Kashmir Chamber of Commerce & Industries (KCCI) Javeed Ahmad Tenga says that due to the lack of facilities at the centre, the business community is facing a number of problems in doing hassle-free trade, and that is probably the main cause of the diminishing LoC trade.
“Our requests of increasing commodities, which are currently 21 in number, have been going unheard since many years. The government promised us the banking facility and scanners besides other facilities, but those promises were restricted to word-of-mouth only,” Tenga said.
Over the last few years, the cross-LoC trade has been disrupted by a number of issues and allegations. Last year, when Kashmir witnessed its biggest public uprising following the killing of Hizb commander Burhan Wani, trade remained disrupted for 87 days straight before it was restored.
Trade was also stopped on July 21 this year after banned drugs were seized from a truck, while trade on the Poonch-Rawalakot route was stopped for over a month after tensions erupted at the border.
Javed Ahmad, a prominent businessman associated with cross-LoC trade, says that businessmen have been “feeling insecure” after the clampdown by government agencies, especially the NIA, as the trade is not being regulated as per international norms.
“The houses of most of our businessmen have been raided by the NIA, and it has led to a sense of insecurity among businessmen associated with cross-LoC trade. Every other day, the houses of businessmen are being raided by the NIA just to humiliate us. We are doing our business, not running a hawala racket,” Ahmad said.
Moreover, he said, businessmen are being asked to report to New Delhi for questioning by NIA for which they have to spend a huge sum of money for travel and expenses.
“We don’t have any issues with questioning by NIA. But we shouldn’t be humiliated as if we were running a hawala racket. Moreover, we demand that those that are being asked to report for questioning should be questioned here in Srinagar,” he said.
Debating the concerns of allegations levelled against the business community, leaders question why is no action being taken against defaulting trucks when the government has posted its own officers to check and monitor the goods loaded in them.
As per reports in Indian daily Mumbai Mirror, the NIA has analysed thousands of documents related to trade done by more than 250 registered traders to investigate the alleged hawala funding. The raids were conducted on the premises of Bashir Ahmad Kaloo, resident of Hamza Colony, Bemina, Srinagar; Showkat Ahmad Kaloo, resident of Hamza Colony, Bemina, Srinagar; Abdul Rashid Bhat, resident of Hamza Colony, Bemina, Srinagar; Firdous Iqbal Wani, resident of Hamzah Colony, Buchpora, Srinagar; Sajad Syed Khan of Umarabad, Zainkoot HMT, Srinagar and Imran Kawoosa of Causa & Sons in Srinagar
In Delhi, similar raids were conducted on Ganga Bishan Gupta of Gadodia Market, Khari Bawli, Firoz Akhtar Siddiqui of New Patel Nagar and Sunil Kumar Jain also of Khari Bawli the reports said.