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By Anjana Pasricha
21 October 2008
India and Pakistan have opened a trade route in the divided region of Kashmir for the first time in six decades. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, hopes are high that the latest confidence-building measure between the two countries will lower tensions in the region, which is claimed by both countries.
There was a mood of celebration as trucks laden with fruits and other goods crossed over from Indian and Pakistani Kashmir to the other side, signaling the start of trade in the region after six long decades.
|Kashmiri fruit dealer drive towards the Line of control, Kashmir's de facto border in Baramulla, about 55 kilometers (34 miles) north of Srinagar, India, 20 Oct 2008|
In Indian Kashmir, banners saying "Long live trade across the two sides" fluttered on the trucks as villagers and traders cheered.
In Pakistani Kashmir, white doves of peace were released as the trucks began their journey.
The opening of trade across the tightly-guarded border that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan is the second major step taken by the two countries to allow contact in the disputed region since they launched a peace process, four years ago. A cross-border bus service was launched in 2005.
The trade begins four months after Indian Kashmir was wracked my massive anti-India protests. led by separatist groups. Their demands included the opening of a trade route to Pakistan.
A leader of the separatist alliance, the All Parties Huriyat Conference, Abdul Ghani Bhat, says allowing trade is a good step, but hopes it will lead to a political solution of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan.
"First steps are first steps, but it is the last step which will determine whether the dispute on Kashmir has permanently been settled or not," said Bhat.
Trade will be restricted. Only four trucks from each side will be allowed to ferry a limited set of goods, once a week, between Srinagar on the Indian side and Muzaffarabad on the Pakistani side. A second trade route will be opened in the coming months, linking Poonch in India with Rawalkot in Pakistani Kashmir.
Pakistani Kashmir Prime Minister Sardar Atique Ahmed Khan says volumes will be improved and trade will be expanded. He expresses hope increasing contact and communication between the two sides will ultimately help to resolve the Kashmir conflict, but cautioned against expecting quick results.
"All these things, slowly and gradually, they are contributive factors towards the ultimate resolution," said Atique (of the Kashmir dispute)."
The slow moving peace process between India and Pakistan has lowered tensions in the region, but the two countries are no closer to resolving their territorial dispute.
During the 1990's, a violent separatist insurgency wracked Indian Kashmir - which is the only Muslim majority region in predominantly Hindu India. India blames Pakistan-based Islamic groups for the violence and has moved slowly in opening up the tightly-guarded border.