MIRPUR (AJK) - The business community and traders of Azad Jammu and Kashmir celebrated the 9th anniversary of Cross-LoC trade along with media and civil society representatives.

In this connection, a seminar titled “Nine years of Cross-LoC trade: Challenges and Opportunities,” was jointly organised by Jammu & Kashmir Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industries (JKJCCI) and Cross-LoC Trade Union.

The seminar was chaired by Azad Jammu Kashmir Assembly Speaker Shah Ghulam Qadir besides a large number of cross-LoC traders, representatives of political parties, members of the civil society and senior government officials including Director General Trade and Travel Authority (TATA) also attended the seminar.

Speaking on the occasion, Sardar Kazeem, President Cross-LoC Trade Union highlighted the importance of the trade, saying that the cross-LoC trade volume has touched the Rs4,800 crores this year despite various odds and interruptions caused shelling on the Line of Control (LoC).

He informed that trading on Poonch- Rawalakot route remained suspended for almost four months due to shelling but it has resumed now. He also requested the authorities to permanently resolve issue like confiscation of trucks and goods by the Customs Department on the account of nonpayment of duty and urge traders to maximize this opportunity to the benefit of local communities.

Ch Ghulam Murtaza, President AJK Chamber of Commerce spoke at length on the issues regarding taxation and handling of the trade by customs authorities and Federal Board of Revenue (FBR). He shared that people of AJK are considered as ‘non-residents’ by FBR, so they pay a 19% GST on goods imported whereas this ratio is 17% for the rest of Pakistan. As there’s no clear custom policy for Cross-LoC Trade, vehicles carrying goods face a lot of retribution once they enter Pakistan. “It is the only mode of our communication with people on the other side, it has humanitarian angle too, we have centuries old bonds and this is strengthening our relationship” said Murtaza. He also shared that since businessmen from AJK are not considered as tax filers so they are unable to participate to compete in any tender or bid in Pakistan.

Zulfiqar Abbasi, founder President of J & K JCCI also highlighted issues faced by traders and requested the government to take some concrete steps to resolve issues of custom duty, fixation of scanners and improvement of infrastructure to conduct hassle free trade.

Participants highlighted importance of this trade for AJK’s economy and urge the government to upgrade and connect these routes to MMM (Mansehra-Mangla-Muzaffarabad) going to be built under the CPEC route. But it is only possible if there is peace on the LoC and better facilities of banking, scanning and manufacturing are provided inside AJK by the government.

Mehmood Dar who’s been involved with cross-LoC trade since its inception said, “Trade let two generations meet and know each other.” He urged both the governments of Pakistan and Azad Jammu Kashmir to take immediate steps to resolve the issues of drivers arrested on the other side under charges of narcotics smuggling and also requested the government to facilitate procedural issues.

Director General TATA, Brig (r) Tahir appreciated the traders and showed his complete support to resolve issues related to cross-LoC trade. While commenting on custom and duty issues, he stated that he has already taken up this issue with the government and soon they will be able to address this issue on permanent basis. We are looking to build warehouses at LoC to store trade items and consignments. “Other infrastructural needs will be met with the support of all the stakeholders,” he assured.

Addressing the seminar, AJK LA Speaker Shah Ghulam Qadir appreciated traders for trying to strengthen the local trade and economy. He was of the opinion that this trade is the only CBM (Confidence-Building-Measure) between India & Pakistan on Kashmir that has a local ownership and that’s the reason why it has been able to sustain itself. It is the triangular model of governance in AJK that involves Kashmir Council and Federal government which creates issues of taxation, increased GST and scarcity of open markets inside AJK.

The government is trying their best to amend the model and will soon come up with a detailed plan to do so which will make life easier for Cross-LoC trade. “It [Intra-Kashmir trade] is not only a trade, but a matter of foreign policy and national security for Pakistan,” he said concluding that, “The trade is linked and manipulated by Indo-Pak relation and all these ups and downs are not unexpected.”