NEW DELHI, OCT 03: While India and Pakistan are all set to start cross-LoC trade from Uri-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakote roads from October 21 later this month, a recent study supported by a US-based research institute has suggested exploring the possibility of permitting the cross-LoC trade from five crossing points in Jammu and Kashmir which were opened for earthquake relief when a massive quake had hit the region in 2005.
"The possibility of border trade being permitted at the five crossing points opened for earthquake relief is worth exploring for the convenience of people living on both sides of the LOC," recommends the research study entitled, "Making Borders Irrelevant," undertaken by the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), New Delhi, supported and published by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), a research institute based in Washington DC.
Making an interesting observation for "border trade", which is different from normal bilateral trade, the study says that the roads that lead to these crossing points could be upgraded to permit truck traffic, assuming that such traffic is found to be commercially viable and official fears about smuggling can be overcome.
Besides looking into the traditional export route for timber from the Valley before partition, which was through the Jhelum river, which flows into Pakistan, the study also asks to explore the possibilities of riverine transportation, as Cross-LoC cooperation in this area might prove productive, though the river would need considerable de-silting before it could once again carry significant traffic.
Undertaken by two leading scholars from India and Pakistan – PR Chari, a Research Professor at the IPCS, a leading think tank in New Delhi and Hasan Askari Rizvi, a leading defence expert from Pakistan who is now a visiting a Professor in Washington DC, this study is supported by two parallel surveys carried out by Suba Chandran and Rashid Khan, on both sides of the Line of Control.
Calling for re-opening of pilgrimage routes on all parts of J&K, including Ladakh and Northern Areas, the study also suggests the "the establishment of rail links between Jammu and Sialkot, and between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad (and from there onward to Abbotabad and Rawalpindi)."
Regarding cross-LoC travels, it asks the governments of India and Pakistan to expand the eligibility criteria to include other categories of travelers such as tourists, persons requiring medical treatment, traders, and even dissident political leaders. Besides, it says that there is also a need to simplify permit procedure, through shortening the process of obtaining travel documentation.
Chari and Rizvi make recommendations under four broad categories: promoting people-to-people contact; increasing trade and commerce across the LoC; encouraging humanitarian aid and development; and improving governance, including security administration.
The study provides specific recommendations under each of the above four categories. Under promoting people to people contacts between the two parts of J&K, the study concludes, "the roads do not presently carry enough traffic to make commercial bus services viable, but their opening would allow people to move across the LOC by private transport and might eventually generate enough traffic to permit commercial bus services."
The study is based on the premise that "neither India nor Pakistan has been able to impose its preferred solution on the long-standing Kashmir conflict, and both sides have gradually shown more flexibility in their traditional positions on Kashmir, without officially abandoning them. This development has encouraged the consideration of new, creative approaches to the management of the conflict."
The study also recommends a multi-campus university straddling the LoC. According to Chari and Rizvi, "two campuses could be situated in Muzaffarabad and Srinagar, with other campuses established subsequently in other cities on both sides of the LOC. This would facilitate the exchange of teachers and students."
This report also calls for the restoration of telephone landlines that were cut in 1965, besides asking for an expansion of mobile telephone services across the LoC. Even today, people in J&K are not allowed to make direct telephone calls across the LoC. According to the authors of the study, "this prohibition makes little sense, for calls can of course be made via mobile phones and satellite-linked communications."
Besides, the study also calls for enhanced access to the Internet on both sides of the LOC, as it "would greatly stimulate contact between people on both sides of the border, allowing them to exchange e-mail, post and respond to blogs, and stay abreast of developing news stories." More importantly, internet access would also allow journalists for electronic and print media to develop closer cross-border contacts with one another. Also, television programs broadcast from one side of the LOC can usually be watched on the other side, and some attract large audiences, reflecting the common culture of the people on both sides of the LOC.
The study also considers sharing of information between both parts of J&K on weather conditions, seismic activity, and flow of water in rivers, which will help to generate early warnings of floods and other natural disasters. Such cooperation, the report says, could evolve into a long-term process of monitoring and researching the retreat of glaciers, the incidence of earthquakes, and other environmental concerns.
The study says, "No steps, whether short term or long term, can be taken until the tensions between India and Pakistan erode. This will not happen suddenly. The reality is that India-Pakistan relations cannot be dramatically improved over the short run, nor can all their outstanding problems be resolved quickly. Unrealistic expectations that progress in making borders irrelevant in Kashmir will be swift and that India-Pakistan relations will rapidly improve could lead to frustrations. Moreover, the task of making borders irrelevant in Kashmir cannot be considered in isolation from ongoing efforts to do the same thing elsewhere along the international border between India and Pakistan."
"As all sides are coming to recognize, the present borders cannot be changed, but they can be made more porous, and a larger measure of self-governance devolved" to both J&K and PoK," the study concludes.