Decision on Indo-Pak cross-LoC trade during Zardari-Manmohan meeting

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Islamabad, Sep 24 (UNI) A formal announcement about the dates of launching cross-Line of Control (LoC) trade in the disputed region of Kashmir will be made after the meeting between Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The meeting is to be held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. This would be high on agenda of the bilateral talks between the two leaders in their first ever meeting, local English daily The News reported today.

''The schedule and other details of the cross-LoC trade agreement reached between the two sides at a meeting on Monday would be reflected in a joint statement likely to be issued after the Zardari-Singh meeting,'' according to official sources.

A meeting of the joint working group on cross-LoC confidence building measures was held in New Delhi on Monday after which a brief statement issued by the Foreign office here said, ''The modalities of cross-LoC trade were finalised.'' Later, the leader of Pakistan delegation Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry, Additional Secretary (South Asia) at the Foreign Ministry, told journalists that the trade list had also been finalised.

The list for zero tariff regime includes around 20 items for the two-way trade, it was learnt.

Indications are that a date in the second half of October or early November is likely to be set for opening up of trade routes, which would include Muzaffarabad-Srinagar and most likely also Rawlakot-Poonch.

Notwithstanding, the recent violations of the ceasefire on the LoC, it appears a decision has now been taken by the top political leadership in Islamabad and New Delhi to finally kickstart the cross-LoC trade.

President Zardari in his first address to the joint Parliamentary session here on September 20 had specifically mentioned that cross-LoC trade as a pioneering CBM in Kashmir would be started.

Early this month Chairman of the APHC Mirwaiz Umar Farooq also reiterated his demand for opening of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad route for trade.

The initiation of cross-LoC trade would be the second major Kashmir-related CBM after the launch of trans-Kashmir bus service in April 2005.

In February 2005, in a landmark decision, India and Pakistan agreed to start the first ever bus service between two capitals (Muzaffarabad and Srinagar) of divided Kashmir to facilitate contact between the families on either side of the LoC.

Subsequently, in Oct 2005, Pakistan and India agreed to open foot crossings at five points across the LoC. However, currently only three meeting points on the LoC are operational. The proposal of intra-Kashmir trade was first mooted in 2005 and India has been particularly keen on it.

UNI XC RJ KP1205

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