Today, India and Pakistan reopened an old trade route across the Line of Control [LoC] for the first time in sixty years. The development garnered major news coverage among Western, Pakistani, and Indian media outlets on Tuesday. According to CNN, “India and Pakistan finalized the trade plans last month. Sixteen trucks carried 21 pre-approved goods from both sides of the 170 km (110-mile) highway that divides Kashmir.” The UK Guardian noted that today, “From Indian Kashmir came fruit, nuts and honey while Pakistani Kashmiri traders sent rice and rock salt. Security was tight for the opening, with even the fruit subject to stringent security checks.” The news agency added, “Hundreds gathered on both sides of the de facto border – symbolizing the yearning for a solution to the bitter dispute which has led to three wars.” [Image from the AP]
Many news outlets cited eyewitness accounts in their coverage. The AFP cited statements by the leaders of both Indian and Pakistani Kashmir. Indian Kashmiri Governor N.N. Vohra, said of the twice-weekly trade, “It is a historic day which will surely help the economy of both parts of Kashmir…I hope it will herald peace in the region.” Pakistan Kashmiri Prime Minister Atiqur Rehman echoed that he hoped the development, help make headway towards resolving the Kashmir issue will “help make headway towards resolving the Kashmir issue.” BBC News noted that the governments of both India and Pakistan “hope that these steps will bolster the four-year-old peace agreement, which has recently come under strain.”
A Muslim insurgency broke out in Indian Kashmir in 1989, “although militant violence has fallen sharply since the nuclear-armed states began a peace process in 2004 aimed at settling all issues including the future of Kashmir,” reported the AFP. The news agency added, “But in the past few months, the Kashmir valley has witnessed the biggest pro-independence demonstrations since a revolt erupted in 1989, triggering a violent crackdown by Indian security forces.” AAJ Television reported, “The opening of the trade route has been a key demand of Kashmiri leaders [other media outlets called these leaders, Kashmiri separatists]. In recent months they led weeks of protests that were sparked by a decision to provide land in the Indian occupied part of the region to a Hindu pilgrim trust.” The BBC’s Altaf Hussain, reporting from the Indian side of the LoC, said “the overwhelming majority of separatist groups in Indian administered Kashmir” welcomed” today’s development, although “most militants groups have not commented.” Reuters quoted separatist leader, Mirwaiz Omer Farooq, who said, “This is the first step toward achieving economic independence for Kashmir.” However, Dawn reported, the separatists still assert that India “still needs to acknowledge that Kashmir is disputed, and be prepared to address the underlying issue of the future of the region.” [Image from BBC News]
Although India has been reluctant to reopen the LoC, in part for fear that it would receive an influx of Islamist militants from Pakistan, “the new administration in Pakistan has surprised many in India with its emphasis on building trust through trade,” reported the Guardian. This month, President Asif Ali Zardari raised eyebrows in both Islamabad and New Delhi when he asserted that India “had never been a threat to Pakistan,” telling the Wall Street Journal, “There is no other economic survival for nations like us. We have to trade with our neighbors first.” BBC News cited analysts, who note that trade between India and Pakistan could reach $6 billion a year if both sides ease restrictions. Given Pakistan’s burgeoning economic crisis, such a statistic is both pertinent and significant.
Regardless of how well this carefully monitored trade pans out in the next few months, all news agencies, Western, Indian, and Pakistani alike, agreed that it was a significant development, one that prompted festivities on either side of the Line of Control.