Ahead of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's visit to New Delhi, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and main opposition Peoples' Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said Friday there was lack of progress on cross Line of Control (LOC) trade and travel.
Cautioning the leadership of both India and Pakistan, Sayeed said: "Credibility of the entire peace process is at stake, and unless the two governments over come the hawkish elements in each country to implement major decisions taken by them, the painstakingly built effort could breed renewed cynicism in the state with serious implications."
Addressing a public meeting in the border town of Hiranagar, about 80 km south of Jammu, Mufti said: "It was sad that the governments of India and Pakistan had failed to implement the decisions taken by their foreign ministers more than a year back to carry forward the original vision of bringing the two sides closer through trade, travel, joint ventures and cultural exchanges."
He said there was no reason why the two governments should take so long to implement the decision to open more routes in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh regions, increase bus frequency, remove hassles in providing travel permits and more importantly extend the facility to all categories for tourism and pilgrimage purposes.
He was referring to these points on the eve of the seventh anniversary of the launch of historic Karvan-e-aman between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad --- the bus service between the two halves of the state that was started after 58 years by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi from Srinagar on April 7, 2005. The bus service was to facilitate the coming together of divided families, with a vision to extend it to regular trade and travel facility to break the decades long siege around the state. The cross LOC travel later that year started from Chakan-da-bagh in Poonch district of Jammu region. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was the chief minister then heading a PDP-Congress coalition.
The trade between Indian and Pakistani-administered part started in December 2008 through barter system which is non-tax trade.
Mufti regretted that even the trade between the two sides had not progressed. He said: "PDP wants opening up of all traditional routes through Kashmir, Jammu, Ladakh and Kargil regions and lifting curbs on travel and trade to create an Economic Free Zone (EFC) across the state that has tremendous natural resources and could become one of the most affluent regions of the country." He said major hurdles had been crossed in this process by conceding important principles like travel on permits instead of passport and visa and trade without custom duties and it needed only fine tuning now in terms of the decisions taken by foreign ministers last year.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had earlier this week said that the cross-Line of Control (LoC) trade was not yielding any financial benefits to the state as a financial arrangement is not in place.
"It's a barter system, in which our traders were suffering losses, while the other side (traders of Pakistan-administered Kashmir) were gaining. There should be a proper financial mechanism in place if this cross-LOC trade is to qualify as a confidence building measure between the two parts of Kashmir," Omar told the legislative assembly during question hour Wednesday.
The cross-LOC trade and travel are considered major Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) after the ceasefire at the frontiers agreed in November 2003.
Zardari is visiting India on Sunday to pray at the Ajmer shrine of Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti and will have a luncheon meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that day.