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‘LoC route being misused by big India, Pakistani traders’

Islamabad, Oct 21 (IANS) As the trade between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir across the Line of Control (LoC) marked its second anniversary Thursday, a traders group in Pakistani Kashmir alleged big traders from India and Pakistan are misusing the route to save duty on their products. The authorities denied the charge.

‘The traders in big cities on both sides are misusing the LoC route to dispatch goods instead of Wagah border post or Karachi and Mumbai ports just to save customs duty,’ said Pervez Shah, chairman of the Intra-Kashmir Trade Committee.

‘Although there has been more than Rs.500 crore worth of trade through LoC during the last couple of years, the route is now being exploited by traders from bigger cities in Pakistan like Lahore and Karachi, in connivance with their counterparts in Amritsar, Delhi and Mumbai,’ Shah told Dunya TV.

However, Shah remained optimistic about trade prospects.

‘If we can streamline trade from both sides of Kashmir, it will bring economic stability in the region,’ he said.

Authorities, however, denied the duty evasion charges.

‘Some people are propagating against the trade through LoC, but I want to say it categorically that the entire activity is being conducted in a transparent manner,’ said Brig. (retd) Ismail Khan, director general of Kashmir Trade and Travel Authority.

‘We scan the trucks at the Chakothi terminal before allowing them to cross the bridge. If we spot anything that is in violation of the trade agreement, we confiscate the entire shipment at once,’ he said.

The Indian and Pakistani governments had reached an agreement to encourage trade through LoC as part of the confidence-building measures and to ease tense relations on the Kashmir issue.

The trade, primarily being used to trade 21 agreed items including Kashmiri embroidery, dry and fresh fruits, wooden furniture, shawls and Kashmiri carpets, opened Oct 21, 2008 when the first few trucks trundled past each other at the LoC, agreed between both countries after the Shimla agreement in 1972.

The Pakistani government has declared the trade through LoC exempt from custom duty and other taxes to encourage trade activity from both sides of the border.

The tense relations between both countries do have their bearing on the LoC trade as well and it remained suspended for three weeks in June this year after the deadlock in talks between both foreign ministers.

Kashmir has been the major bone of contention between the two South Asian neighbours and both India and Pakistan have fought three wars on this issue. Pakistan has maintained that Kashmir is the core issue during strategic dialogue process while India has been advocating resolving other issues instead of making the peace process hostage to the Kashmir issue.

Efforts began during the tenure of then Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and then Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf to ease tension and increase interaction between Kashmiris on both sides of the border to create an environment of peace.

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