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    India, Pakistan open trade route across Kashmir

    HotNewsTurkey with wires
    21.10.2008 - 11:39 | Son Güncelleme:

    India and Pakistan opened a trade link across divided Kashmir for the first time in six decades on Tuesday, a step aimed at reducing tension between the nuclear-armed neighbors.

    The decision, taken only last month, to allow limited trade across the front line in Kashmir symbolizes attempts to solve a bitter dispute over the Himalayan region by creating "soft borders" allowing the free movement of goods and people.

    "I'm quite confident that this beginning will lead us to proper and regular trade and commerce between both sides," Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan, prime minister of Pakistani Kashmir, told reporters.

    But Khan cautioned against hopes the opening of trade across an old ceasefire line and the de facto border, known as the Line of Control (LOC), would lead to a quick solution of the more than 60-year dispute over Muslim-majority Kashmir.

    "All these steps, cross-LOC trade, communication, people-to-people contacts, talks, all these things slowly and gradually they are most generally contributing factors towards the ultimate resolution," Khan said.

    "But no high hopes should be attached; no wild wishes should be attached to only the one event of today. But this is a great success," he said.

    The South Asian neighbors who claim Kashmir in full but rule in parts have fought two wars over the region and were on the verge of a third in 2002 before pulling back from the brink.

    On Tuesday, white doves of peace were released as 14 Pakistani trucks bedecked with the national flag crossed a bridge into Indian Kashmir carrying rice, onions and dried fruit.

    Dozens of school children chanted "Long Live Pakistan" and "Kashmir will become a part of Pakistan" as a brass band played patriotic music.

    "MILESTONE"
    It was the first time vehicles had been allowed across the ceasefire line and the newly constructed Aman Setu, or Peace Bridge, since a 1948 war. Lorries are expected to drive a few kilometers inside rival territory and unload.

    "I was 12-years-old when I last saw baskets of fruits being packed to be sent to Rawalpindi," Haji Abdul Ahad Bhat, a 74-year-old apple farmer from the Indian side told AP, referring to a Pakistani city near the capital, Islamabad.

     

    "I’m completely hopeful that this will remove a lot of difficulties and create an atmosphere of friendship on the two sides," AP also quoted the governor, Narendra Nath Vohra, as saying.

    The opening of trade in Kashmir is the latest in a series of tentative peace moves that have done little to resolve their central territorial dispute, which has hobbled regular trade across their international border further south for decades.

    But it does go towards meeting one of the demands of separatist groups in Indian Kashmir, who have been leading months of anti-India protests, some of the biggest in years.

    India has moved slowly on opening up Kashmir's borders, believing that they could boost separatist militant attacks on Indian forces from bases in Pakistan. Militants have been battling security forces in Indian Kashmir since 1989.

    A bus service connecting Srinagar, Indian Kashmir's summer capital, and Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistani Kashmir, was launched in 2005, one of many confidence-building measures undertaken since the two sides began a peace process in 2004.

    But because of elaborate security checks, suffocating bureaucracy and mistrust, only 9,000 passengers have travelled between the two sides of Kashmir on the "peace bus" service.

    For the time being, trade will take place just once a week, with a limited list of goods allowed.

    Khuwaja Farooq, chairman of the Muzaffarabad Chamber of Commerce, said he wanted free trade.

    "It should be a permanent feature ... but as of now, nothing seems permanent," he said.

    Indian Kashmir's governor, N.N. Vohra, said earlier the opening of a trade route would be an "important milestone" in India-Pakistan relations.

    Photo: AP

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