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India & Pakistan trade commerce, not fire, at LoC

On the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Jammu and Kashmir, a 19-member trade delegation from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir crossed the line of control, marking the resumption of trade on the Jhelum Valley Road (JVR).

, ET Bureau|
Oct 10, 2008, 03.32 AM IST
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KAMAN POST (LoC): On the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh���s visit to Jammu and Kashmir, a 19-member trade delegation from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir crossed the line of control, marking the resumption of trade on the Jhelum Valley Road (JVR) for the first time since Pakistan���s invasion of the state in 1947. Traders from both sides termed the move historic, insisting it will ���strengthen the peace process.���

���Right now it is symbolic and we are not satisfied with the list of tradable items,��� Zulfiqar Abbasi, the leader of Muzaffarabad Chamber of Commerce said adding: ���But it is just the beginning and we hope this sapling becomes a huge tree.��� The event is offering a chance to revive broken roads and broken hearts of over 10 million people living on either side, he said.���

At Slamabad, where the delegation arrived to an impressive welcome by PoK traders, scenes were emotional. ���Awaz Dou,
Hum Eik Hein��� were the main slogans of over 200 traders who came with a huge emotional baggage and an overload of floral garlands.

But Kashmir Chamber of Commerce president Mubin Shah did not miss the opportunity to make a political statement: ���It (opening of the road) devoured thousands of precious lives to awaken the conscience of the government to respect the aspirations of the people.���

The entire gathering stood silently for a minute to pay tribute for those who died in the last two decades. ���We hope that very soon the leaders of the two countries sit across a table and solve larger issues that cause conflict,��� said Shakil Qalander, who heads the industry in the Valley.

For the entire belt, the event was quite huge. ���I cannot imagine that I will be here to witness this day,��� said a PoK
resident Mohammad Ashraf who was waiting for his customs clearance to the Indian side of LoC. ���But you keep one thing in mind. We live at a place where everything is expensive���.

Kaman, the 220-feet long and 264-tonne bridge, which was rebuilt after the 2005 earthquake, was painted white with peace flags fluttering on either side. It had four garden chairs in the middle of it, obviously for the frequent meetings between rival armies and civilian officials.

Though deserted and the gates bolted on both sides for most of the time, this piece of ���no man���s land��� becomes instantly crowded when there is movement. Porters from the two sides, easily identified by the uniforms they wear, cross over as many times. This bridge will finally be opened for small trucks (1-1.5 tonnes) on October 21 when a formal beginning for trade is made by the two sides on agreed set of items.

Officials said the road currently being widened would witness lot of improvement in a year. ���It is still not ready for heavy trucks,��� a senior officer who received the PoK delegation said. ���Certain bridges need to be upgraded and NHPC, which is implementing the second stage of Uri power project, has already laid the foundation of a huge bridge at Kalgai to replace the balley Red Bridge.���

But the warm hugs between officials on the bridge and impressive emotional bonhomie between civilians have not triggered lowering of guard. Between Kaman and Slamabad, one could see the animosity of the artillery exchange days, with soldiers after every 100 metres pointing their LMGs towards the roaring Jhelum, on the other side of which a few PoK families live.
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