We have been working together with partners to develop civic institutions and supporting infrastructure for trade across the Line of Control in Kashmir, one of the most militarised zones in the world.
The governments of India and Pakistan opened up the Line of Control (LoC) for limited trade in 2008 to create trust after seven decades of violent conflict.
Since 2009, Conciliation Resources has worked with local networks of journalists, businesspersons, labourers, academics and civil society on both sides of the LoC to made intra-Kashmir trade possible and more beneficial for communities on the ground.
Practical steps to strengthen trust and confidence
This confidence building initiative has been designed to build trust between conflict parties and to create a friendly environment for political negotiations. It has played a key role in symbolically softening a barrier between people living in Kashmir on either side of the LoC.
It has also demonstrated the commitment of both governments to take practical steps to alleviate the sense of alienation and victimhood felt by the Kashmiri people.
Beyond the economic benefits of trade
"More than actual GDP, what the trade process has brought to fruition is emotional GDP… I believe that this has immense potential to make borders irrelevant."
Y.V. Sharma, former President, Jammu and Kashmir Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The barter trade has brought tangible economic benefits to both traders and wider communities along the LoC.
It connects people across cultural and physical divides; provides greater security for people living near the LoC; and brings people who are usually excluded, such as former militants, into the broader peace process.
For the traders and for the communities involved, the sentimental weight of what they receive and what the process represents is far greater than the monetary value of the goods themselves.
Reintegration opportunities for ex-combatants
A large number of ex-combatants have also become involved in the intra-Kashmir trade process. They are motivated to rebuild the brutally severed connections between the divided people and land across the LoC. Trade has provided an unprecedented incentive and opportunity to the ex-combatants to start a new life.
"The LoC trade not only dramatically improved my livelihood but also reconnected me with my family and homeland, without compromising my political views."
Majid Khan, LoC trader and ex-combatant, Muzaffarabad
The Jammu and Kashmir joint chamber of commerce and industry
The Jammu and Kashmir Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry is a shared representative organisation that binds all major chambers and business organisations and LoC trade organisations from the regions across the LoC in Kashmir.
Its establishment was a logical step in safeguarding the process. It emerged as the first-ever organisation with members from both sides of the LoC. The Joint Chamber has been the symbolic lynchpin of the process. It supports the trade process and advocates for more effective trade policies.
These are all remarkable steps in this conflict-affected region, which had never previously seen such cross-divide platforms.
As well as creating new possibilities for relationships – economic, cultural and even political - the process is saving lives by deterring the Indian and Pakistani armies from crossfire in the areas where the trade and travel take place at the LoC.
Since its inception, this process of collaboration between traders, the Joint Chamber and wider civil society has sustained its momentum and expanded contact across multiple regional and religious divides, facing challenges and overcoming adversity along the way.
"Trade leads to the development of social relationships, which leads to emotional integration, which in turn leads to trust."
Siddiq Wahid, Historian, India-administered Kashmir