India suspends cross-LoC trade with Pakistan
Omar, Mehbooba, Azad, Tarigami flay decision, say it’s ‘election gimmick’
New Delhi, Apr 18 (PTI) Hardening its stand against Pakistan, India Thursday indefinitely suspended cross-LoC trade at two points along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir effective Friday, following reports that it was being "misused" by elements from across the border to smuggle weapons, narcotics and fake currency.
In an official statement, the Home Ministry said orders have been issued for halting the trade at Salamabad of Baramulla in the Kashmir region, and Chakkan-da-Bagh of Poonch district in the Jammu region, after reports of very large scale "misuse" of the cross-LoC trade.
"It has, therefore, been decided by the Government of India to suspend the LoC trade at Salamabad and Chakkan-da-Bagh in Jammu and Kashmir with immediate effect.
"Meanwhile, a stricter regulatory and enforcement mechanism is being worked out and will be put in place in consultation with various agencies. The issue of reopening of LoC trade will be revisited thereafter," the statement said.
Immediately after the announcement, political parties in Jammu and Kashmir termed it an "election gimmick".
Former chief minister Omar Abdullah said, "All these years, we have been pressing for a whole-body truck scanner. Instead of going for that, they have shut down the trade completely".
He said the cross-LoC trade was a legacy of former prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and was carried forward by his successor Manmohan Singh.
"I am surprised that while claiming himself to be follower of Vajpayee jee, the Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) is doing exactly opposite. He (Modi) should have honoured his words and deeds," Omar said.
Congress member and Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said, "This is purely an election gimmick. The BJP is feeling that the ground is slipping under its feet and now they are desperately looking at further polarising the Lok Sabha elections."
Azad, who is campaigning in Kerala, told PTI over phone that during the past few months, there have been no reports of any illegalities at the two trading centres.
"The BJP should know that the public is aware about such moves which are made in the name of their so-called national security.
"The trade had almost come down to bare minimum ever since Modi took over as Prime Minister," Azad said.
PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti tweeted, "Using Kashmir as a scapegoat to claw its way back to power won't help BJP. It's an excuse to worsen ties with Pak despite their peace overtures. By doing this PM Modi has dismantled a CBM initiated by Vajpayee ji. Won't be surprised if an attack on Pak is in the offing."
She was referring to Confidence-building measures (CMBs) initiated by the former PM.
CPM leader from state Mohammed Yusuf Tarigami said, "What we want is more trade between two regions and people-to-people contact. But unfortunately what is happening now is that whatever little opportunities were available, are being blocked now."
The four-day-a-week trade is meant to facilitate exchange of goods of common use between local populations across the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir. It is based on 'Barter' system and works on zero-duty basis.
The MHA statement said that reports have been received that the LoC trade is being misused on a very large scale.
"It has been revealed that the trade has changed its character to mostly third party trade and products from other regions, including foreign countries, are finding their way through this route.
"Unscrupulous and anti-national elements are using the route as a conduit for Hawala money, drugs and weapons, under the garb of this trade," it claimed.
It said that during ongoing investigations of certain cases, the NIA has found a significant number of trading concerns engaged in the LoC trade are being operated by persons closely associated with banned militant outfits.
"Investigations have further revealed that some individuals, who have crossed over to Pakistan, and joined militant organisations have opened trading firms in Pakistan. These trading firms are under the control of militant organizations and are engaged in LoC trade," it said.
It said that after the February 14 Pulwama incident, in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed by a suicide bomber of Jaish-e-Mohammed, the government withdrew the Most Favoured Nation status to Pakistan.
"Inputs have also been received that in order to evade the consequent higher duty, LoC trade is likely to be misused to a much larger extent," it said.
The cross-LoC trade on Srinagar-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakote routes was started on October 21, 2008 as a Confidence Building Measure (CBM).
The trade is carried out as per a Standard Operating Procedure (SoP) prescribed by the Ministry of Home Affairs, in which a list of 21 Agreed Items to be traded are mentioned. From October 15, 2011, trading days were extended from two to four.
The trade from 2008 till the 2017 fiscal stood at over Rs 4,400 crore at the Uri trading centre, while the figure for the same period at Poonch stood at Rs 2,542 crore.
The main items exported were bananas, herbs, embroidery, zeera and tamarind, red chilly and cumin, while imports mainly included almonds, dry dates, herbs, mangoes and pistachio.