Kashmir trade: glimmer of hope or false dawn?

September 23, 2008

In the aftermath of the deadly hotel bombing in Islamabad, amidst fresh tensions with the United States over  helicopter intrusions in Pakistan’s northwest, and in spite of reports of fresh cross-border firing in Kashmir, negotiators from India and Pakistan met in New Delhi and agreed to open trade across Kashmir. There could hardly have been a more unlikely time for the two countries to agree to crack open one of the world’s most militarised frontiers, where a ceasefire which has more or less held since 2003 is beginning to fray at the edges.

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To be sure, the neighbours have a passenger bus service twice a month that links the two parts of Kashmir under their control, but it is heavily restricted and travellers are subject to all sorts of clearances before they can get anywhere near it.

So opening up trade, and at a time like this when Pakistan is battling multiple challenges, does seem like a significant step. Does this mean there is a glimmer of hope in the otherwise pervasive sense of gloom spreading across the region? Or is this another one of those false dawns that the people of the two countries have seen too often in the past, and especially the people of Kashmir?

What the two countries will trade is the first question that springs to mind. And are these goods that are meant to be traded without any tarriffs to be produced in the two Kashmirs or will they be coming from somewhere else?

Protest in Kashmir

And then above all, is this initiative going to work at this point when unrest in Indian Kashmir over a land row involving Hindus has snowballed into massive anti-India protests of a scale last seen in 1989?

Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, who said at his inauguration earlier this month that he expected some “good news” on Kashmir soon, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are expected to meet in New York this week where the details will likely become clearer.

  

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