If the cross LOC trade is allowed to turn into a functional reality, it will certainly be the most powerful CBM, notwithstanding scepticism and cynical rejection
(Shuhab Hashmi, 38, was born in Baramulla, and graduated from the Degree College in Sopore, and completed his M.A. from the University of Kashmir. He is a Columnist, and in his spare time enjoys reading, discussions and traveling.)
Opening up of Srinagar-Muzaffarabad, as well as Poonch-Rawlakot road for the trade purposes is no doubt the biggest Confidence Building Measure vis-à-vis Kashmir agreed upon by India and Pakistan in the last 60 years. There have been numerous agreements between the two rival neighbours but most of them have revolved round the interests of either Islamabad or New Delhi.
For example the conversion of ceasefire line into Line of Control (LoC) was in the greater interest of India to which a lame duck Pakistani establishment agreed upon under pressure, in the backdrop of humiliating defeat in Dhaka. Earlier the Indus Water Treaty was again in favour of India and Pakistan to safeguard their water interests that too at the cost of huge economic losses the Jammu and Kashmir has suffered.
With the onset of armed rebellion in Kashmir, there has hardly been a movement forward on addressing the issues common to the people on both sides of the divide. Pakistan’s known rhetoric that Kashmir is a jugular vein and that it supports the struggle on moral, diplomatic and political front would stop only there. But opening Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road and later Poonch-Rawlakot road was certainly a big milestone in the process of coming to the rescue of lakhs of people who had been running from pillar to post to get permission and the formalities of visit done to see each other. There is no doubt a big question mark over the procedure being adopted in issuing the travel permits and it is not in measure with the expectations of the people, nevertheless, every month nearly 500 people mostly on Poonch-Rawlakot route travel to the other side. This is clear that the permits have so far been restricted to divided families and in many of their cases as well inordinate delays have become the hallmark of the process. Since the number of divided families in Poonch-Rajouri belt and on the other side in that area is higher the numbers are always on an up. This step as part of the composite dialogue between India and Pakistan has certainly come as a major relief for those who cannot ordinarily afford to travel to Delhi to get visa and move on further to Pakistan and its Administered Kashmir. One cannot deny the fact that the cumbersome procedure is a major hiccup to make it the most enviable CBM in the process, but to discredit it out rightly would also not be fair on part of those who do not see it ‘serving their interests’.
Now the opening of these roads for trade purposes from October 21 is yet another leap in the process, notwithstanding the fact that it is overshadowed by the similar apprehensions. Those talking about it and involved in the process have been repeatedly making their concerns public. First concern was that apple was not part of the list which obviously would have made it meaningless. While India and Pakistan have tread on a new path of reconciliation as was evident from the New York statement of September 24, need is that all what has been written in the renewed pledge to end hostilities should be followed in letter and spirit. Merely starting the trade and making it hostage to the same procedural wrangling would prove counter-productive and make the whole exercise meaningless. To make the trade purposeful would mean that there should be no bar on any trade and it should serve as yet another road like Srinagar-Jammu highway. This road’s importance has increased manifold in the recent weeks after hundreds of thousands of people braved bullets to cross it in search of an alternative. That was necessitated after economic blockade enforced by the Hindu right wing people in Jammu. So it demands that from essential commodities to handicraft to fruit, everything should be part of the lists which are likely to be finalized by the Chambers of Muzaffarabad and Srinagar by the middle of next month.
Whatever the reactions from political parties at the outset the people in general have welcomed the announcement, though with same apprehensions. In the long chain of reactions one is interesting, though not on unexpected lines. That is when the Hurriyat (G) chairman Syed Ali Geelani termed it as a “non issue”. Geelani needs to explain to the people that if this was a non issue why the senior executive member of Hurriyat Conference Sheikh Abdul Aziz, who laid down his life on this road, was leading the procession. It was the joint programme of all the separatists including Geelani to support the Muzaffarabad Chalo call given by traders. Both the Hurriyats had initially endorsed the three point charter of demands which included opening of this road for trade purposes, releasing of detainees and withdrawal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act. As they saw the Azadi sentiment rejuvenating they extended their agitation for the larger goal of freedom forgetting that what they had demanded a week earlier. The leaders are duty bound to make the position clear to the masses to avoid confusion.
This development has also unveiled a new facet in the Kashmir struggle which is, that for each single demand which ultimately is part of a larger demand the sacrifices have to be split. For re-opening of this road earlier for bus service a rally organized by PDP was attacked in which 13 people got killed. And this time the mass movement for the road took a heavy toll of over 50 people. Are we heading towards a compartmentalised structure of sacrifices to achieve the larger goal is the moot question. If so it is then better to follow exactly the same procedure to prevent the innocent lives from perishing. Leaders should think.