It's seven years since India and Pakistan, after decades of conflict and separation, opened up two travel routes between the divided sides of Jammu and Kashmir. Initially restricted to connecting divided families rather than business users, the two crossings between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad and between Poonch and Rawalakot were also opened for limited trade in late 2008.

Looking at issues such as the future of cross-LoC trade and the situation faced by divided families, our peacebuilding partners in the region have recently carried out a survey exploring the experience and opinions of traders operating across this Line of Control (LoC).

This first poll of its kind suggests that traders appear optimistic despite the challenges they still face.

Building confidence

Coinciding with the recent visit of Pakistan President Zardari to India, the Indus Research Foundation (IRF–Jammu) in association with the Centre for Peace, Development and Reforms (CPDR–Mirpur) have launched the results of their perception survey.

The indications are that cross-LoC trade is gaining momentum as an important outlet for business, as well as a vital peacebuilding activity.

Their findings were initially presented in Jammu at an event attended by politicians, policymakers, and members of the Jammu and Kashmir Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry – a recently rejuvenated combined body of the different chambers and trade associations from both sides of the divide.

All 22 members of the Chamber on the Indian side of Jammu and Kashmir later met with Chief Minister Omar Abdullah in a bid to gain official support for strengthening the cross-LoC trade links.

The report will help government make better policies

Rahim Rather, Minister for Finance and Ladakh Affairs

The findings were subsequently presented in Muzaffarabad alongside a screening of the recent documentary A Journey Through River Vitasta, which focuses on the personal stories of divided communities in the region. At the event Khawaja Farooq Ahmad, a ruling People Party leader and former minister, promised that government would hold a meeting to seek traders' opinions on a policy to promote and strengthen existing trade.

Trade was initially launched by India and Pakistan as a confidence-building measure to open opportunities for interaction between the divided communities across the LoC. This study of the economic and peacebuilding potential of cross-LoC trade looks at both its political and economic feasibility.

After further research and analysis, the study's full report will be published in a couple of months. In the meantime, this initial opinion poll, which forms part of the larger study, has been conducted with a sample of traders involved in cross-LoC trade to understand their experiences from engaging in this trade over the last three years. 

Working together across the divide

IRF, led by Zafar Choudhary, and CPDR, led by Ershad Mahmud, have been engaging with prominent economists from the region to undertake comprehensive research on the economic and peacebuilding potential of the cross-LoC trade.

Jointly supervised by the two organisations and supported by Conciliation Resources, the research is undertaken by Prof Dipanker Sengupta of the Department of Economics at the University of Jammu and Zubair Faisal Abbasi, a Development Consultant in Islamabad, who are leading a group of researchers on their respective sides.

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