Cross-LoC Trade and Our Collective Failure

06 Feb, 2014    ·   4294

D Suba Chandran analyses the underlying problems that plague cross-LoC trade between India and Pakistan

The cross-LoC trade between two parts of J&K has been stopped once again. This time the reason is the arrest of a driver from the other side, who was found by the Indian authorities bringing Brown Sugar. Smuggling across the international border between India and Pakistan and across the LoC between two parts of J&K is nothing new; the amount of drugs and drug addicts in Punjab and J&K would reveal the quantum of illegal drug trade in this part of the world. However, in this case, it was found being carried by the driver who was to bring goods from the other side of J&K to this side.

Trade across the LoC remains suspended, as both India and Pakistan have failed to reach an agreement; while Pakistan wants the release of the driver, India would like to pursue legal action against the driver for smuggling drugs. As a result, the cross-LoC trade has not resumed.

Perhaps, in the next round of talks over the issue, both countries may be able to find a way out. Perhaps it may take some more time If cross-LoC trade has to be meaningful and really achieve its potential, then certain serious questions needs to be addressed. Else, even if the cross-LoC trade resumes, it would be slow and dull, without achieving what it could – politically and economically, and wait for another incident to trigger a closure.

The most important question is: are India and Pakistan serious about the cross-LoC trade? This in fact is the primary question and mother of all troubles for the cross-LoC trade. An unbiased answer would be a simple no. Neither India nor Pakistan is keen on strengthening and expanding the cross-LoC trade.

For both the countries – it is more of a charade. If one has to be more sympathetic to both countries, perhaps the argument could be – both India and Pakistan started this initiative and got embroiled in multiple other issues – domestically and bilaterally. Neither the bus service nor the truck service between the two parts is a priority for them.

It is unfortunate, that neither Manmohan Singh nor his Pakistani counter parts in the last few years took the cross-LoC initiatives seriously. If only New Delhi and Islamabad wanted to make these initiatives serious and meaningful, by now they would have expanded substantially. From building institutions of trade to facilitating communication and travel, so much could have been achieved in the last few years. Also in this expansion, there would have been a relook into goods and items of trade that would have made the initiative meaningful.

Given the lack of political interest in such an important initiative in the national capitals in India and Pakistan, and given the sensitive nature of J&K and its history, it is anything but natural that the intelligence and security agencies view these initiatives more as a security problem, than as a social and political initiative. At the slightest provocation, they are meant to do, what they are supposed to.
It would not be prudent to blame the security and intelligence agencies for the failure of political leadership.

Why is the political leadership in New Delhi and Islamabad not serious about cross-LoC trade? One explanation could be – since they are not serious about the bilateral trade between the two countries, they are unlikely to make cross-LoC trade a serious business. Second explanation could be – perhaps New Delhi and Islamabad sees the cross-LoC trade as a political CBM between the two countries, hence are not worried about the economic interaction in J&K. Since it is seen as a political CBM, the larger equations between the two countries impinge on the smaller initiatives across the LoC.

If the first question about the seriousness of the initiative involves the national capital, then the second question has to be asked at the regional level: Is J&K serious about cross-LoC trade? And the cross-LoC bus service? The answer would be divided and depending on who is at the other side of the question. Perhaps, certain districts of J&K are much more enthusiastic about the cross-LoC bus service because of the nature of the divided families and their geographic location. Had the bus service started including people beyond the divided families, today there would have been more buses running between the two parts of J&K.

On cross-LoC trade, there seems to be a divide at the political and business levels. While at the rhetoric level, everyone would paint a positive picture, there are multiple shades to the trade picture. At the political level, the government is not too keen to make it as a top priority in its agenda vis-a-vis New Delhi. Same holds for the government in Muzafarabad vis-a-vis Islamabad. The level of pressure from both parts of J&K on cross-LoC interactions is either negligible or absent. So why blame the federal governments only for paying lip service?

The separatists (need not necessarily limited to the Hurriyat only) are apprehensive that the broadening of cross-LoC trade would undermine the political nature of the bilateral conflict; it is unfortunate, a section within the business community also would like to keep politics first before trade and economics. So why blame only the political leadership for playing politics?

If the State governments have failed to pressurize the federal governments, so did the business communities. While they have held numerous meetings with the Prime Minister and submitted different petitions, they could not pressurize the government adequately. Neither the Parliament nor the media in New Delhi could be mobilized to take this initiative seriously. Think tanks and academics – both in New Delhi and J&K also could not make a dent in the foreign policy Establishment to take crucial decision on the issue. These is where the civil society in India, Pakistan and both parts of J&K could be even more proactive and own the process, instead of witnessing from far.

What is being witnessed across the LoC in Salamabad and Poonch is actually an expression of a deeper problem in New Delhi and Islamabad. And perhaps the failure in Srinagar and Muzaffarabad to give adequate pressure on the national capitals. Unless the underlying problems are addressed, there would be similar events in the near future as well.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir