Cross-LoC trade & travel rolls on despite Uri attack, but it is no respite for Kashmir
On Tuesday, 12 trucks carrying goods crossed the Line of Control into Pakistan occupied Kashmir and one truck arrived from there. The trucks from here carried handicrafts, spices and embroidery items and the one from there was loaded with dry fruits.
The cross-LoC trade was resumed following its suspension on 12 July after the valley tipped into turmoil in the wake of the killing of Burhan Wani on 8 July.
Earlier, on 19 September, a day after the Uri attack, which left 18 soldiers dead, the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Peace Bus left Srinagar early in the morning amid the then hysterical exchange of war rhetoric between India and Pakistan, with eight passengers on board.
Five passengers were residents of PoK who had come to visit their kin here, and three were Kashmiris visiting their relatives on the other side.
The bus travelling normally to PoK a day after the Uri attack took even Kashmir by surprise. More so with the calls for retribution and military strikes at militant camps across the border emanating from New Delhi.
The cross-LoC bus service and the trade was started in April 2005 and October 2008, respectively, as an outcome of the sustained Manmohan-Musharraf peace process through 2003-07 and were billed as the biggest Confidence Building Measure between India and Pakistan on Kashmir since 1947.
Though only a small number of people use the bus service and only limited trade is allowed, the measures stand both as a symbolism and a reminder that an understanding is possible on Kashmir if it is pursued sustainably and with some determination. Now, their surviving the latest Indo-Pak spat - when New Delhi is seeking to review the Indus Water Treaty and the Most Favoured Nation status to Pakistan - has lent a sense of reassurance to the people and traders of the state.
"Though it is welcome, we fail to understand how the trade and travel has been allowed to go ahead amid the war rhetoric," president of the Kashmir Traders and Manufacturers Federation Mohammad Yaseen Khan told Catch. "More so when cross-LoC trade is directly under the control of the central home ministry and the Government of Pakistan. The J&K government has little say in this."
However, Khan argued that the better course of action for the two nations countries was to engage sustainably and ensure these CBMs are built upon "to find a lasting solution to Kashmir".
"Trade between the two parts of Kashmir has barely progressed since it started, nor has the travel," Khan said. "There is no communication and banking facility. The trade is limited to the two parts of Kashmir and the items produced there."
Uri attack fallout
The post-Uri stand-off has come as a serious disappointment to a majority of Kashmiris as it is seen to have nullified the "three month old uprising in the state".
"People expected the ongoing upsurge to lead to the central government initiating a credible political engagement with Kashmir and also resuming talks with Pakistan. Nothing of the sort has happened," says the political analyst Prof Gull Wani. "Instead, New Delhi has become even more hardline on Kashmir, retracing its steps from the political outreach to the people and relying exclusively on security measures to tide over the crisis. This topped up with the Uri attack has now put a full stop to all Kashmir related efforts."
The Uri attack and its fallout have made little difference to the existing troubled state of affairs, although the number of protests has registered a perceptible decline. On 18 September, just as the attack was taking place, stone-pelting incidents were reported at many places in Kulgam, Kupwara and Awantipora. Besides, Khushboo Jan, 13, of Gadafpora village in Shopian, collapsed during clashes between protestors and government forces near Chatwatan, witnesses and her family said. The girl was taken to a nearby Primary Health Centre where doctors declared her as brought dead. The preliminary cause of her death was stated to be cardiac arrest.
The death toll in 81 days of the strife now stands at 91. Several hundred people have been fully or partially blinded and around 12,000 have been injured. On Tuesday, Foziya Sidiq, 22, was killed when a vehicle hit her while reversing amid stone-throwing at Parimpora, on the outskirts of Srinagar. Her sister Nadia sustained serious injuries and is being treated at a Srinagar hospital.
The everyday reality of Kashmir remains the same: markets are closed and the streets deserted. The neighbourhoods have a ghostly feel even in broad daylight. Trade and tourism has been crippled.
According to Yaseen Khan, Kashmir is losing Rs 135 crore daily, with the losses going up to Rs 200 crore during the recent Eid festival. This puts the total economic loss in 81 days at around Rs 11,000 crore.
Children's education has been the worst affected. Schools are shut and the children are confined to their homes. Ironically, some schools have recorded lessons and posted study material online, which in the absence of internet no one can access.
"Uri has obscured all of this. And the fraying Indo-Pak ties, SAARC summit meltdown has left little scope for any positive movement on Kashmir," says Naseer Ahmad, a local columnist. "At a time when New Delhi is taking apart the regional institutional infrastructure, it can hardly be expected to engage Kashmir politically. It is tragic".