Srinagar: Traders and politicians in Kashmir have criticised the government over the sudden suspension of cross-Line of Control trade, which the government said had been triggered by issues including illegal trade of U.S.-origin California almonds, funneling of counterfeit currency, and the funding and promotion of terror groups and anti-India operations though the trade.
“I sold my sole shop in 2011 to invest in the cross-LoC trade. I have two school-going kids. We are now clueless about returns and the settlement of bills. After investing eight years in this trade, where can I invest now?” asked Muhammad Tariq Khan, one of 229 full-time cross- LoC traders who said they have been rendered unemployed overnight.
Hilal Turkey, chairman of the Cross-LoC Trade Body, termed the government decision “unfortunate,” saying the trade volume in the past one decade has touched ₹6,000 crore since 2008 when the twin routes — at Uri’s Salamabad in Baramulla, and Chakkan-da-Bagh in Poonch — were opened.
“There is no denying the fact about drug trafficking incidents. Three traders are already booked and six locals arrested in such cases. Instead of stopping the trade, we always demanded a foolproof mechanism. Nowhere in the world trade is stopped merely on the issues of vulnerability. The blame lies on the regulators of the trade,” Mr. Turkey told The Hindu.
“The trade route has created 1.70 lakh job days so far. We hired services of 6,170 trucks and hundreds of labourers are involved directly. The move will only contribute to unemployment and desperation,” he added.
Sources in the Ministry of Home Affairs said on Friday the government was particularly alarmed by the case of U.S.-origin California almonds, which was not just a violation of the barter arrangement but also was under-invoiced to provide funds to anti-national elements and terrorist organisations in the Valley to fuel anti-India operations.
Listing the reasons for the move, the MHA sources said they included the problem of goods being traded from other countries like the U.S., channelling of funds for terror groups like the Hizbul Mujahideen, drug trade, smuggling arms and ammunition and pumping in fake currency notes.
The MHA sources said former president of the LoC traders association Zahoor Ahmed Watali, chargesheeted by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for funding terror activity, was involved in “illegal activity on the twin trade routes.” The Enforcement Directorate has already attached Mr. Watali’s property.
The sources indicated that the trade was “only suspended and not cancelled permanently.” “The government will revisit the issue of resuming trade after stricter measures are put in place,”“ they said.
In Srinagar, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Hurriyat denounced the Centre’s move.
“When I was Chief Minister, there was pressure to wind up the trade but I resisted. Opening routes are only way to resolve the problem. Unfortunately, we are going backwards,” alleged PDP president Mehbooba Mufti.
At his Friday sermon, Hurriyat chairman Mirwaiz Umar Farooq said, “Even whatever little had been achieved since the Vajpayee time, is being blocked and stopped. Such measures for short term gains come at a huge price for people.” (The Hindu)