India, Pakistan resume barter trade amid tension in contested Kashmir

The first vehicle crosses the bridge which connects Indian-Administrated Kashmir and Pakistan-Administrated Kashmir during cross-border trade at Kaman Post, 118 km (73 miles) north of Srinagar. (Reuters pic)

SRINAGAR: India and Pakistan resumed barter trade at a border crossing in Kashmir on Tuesday, an Indian official said, but the tension in the contested region continued with a general strike and more fighting between Indian security forces and separatists.

Hostilities between the nuclear-armed neighbours escalated dramatically late last month, after an Indian air strike on what it said was a militant group that carried out a suicide attack in the Pulwama district of Indian-controlled Kashmir on Feb 14.

Both sides, which claim Kashmir in full but rule in part, said they downed enemy jets for the first time in decades, and firing along the border became a common sight, disrupting trade and travel.

Trade across the border, known as the Line of Control (LoC), was part-suspended after repeated mortar and small arms fire at Uri, a border town where the exchange of goods takes place.

But on Tuesday the route re-opened after firing in the region eased, said Riyaz Ahmad Malik, an official in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir.

Thirty-five trucks left for Chakothi on the Pakistani side of the border with a similar number moving in the opposite direction, he said.

Trade across the LoC operates on a barter system, where no money is exchanged.

“This trade is heavily dependent on the trust factor,” said Pawan Anand, president of a local trading association in Indian-administered Kashmir.

“We neither meet traders of Pakistan nor can check the quality of the imported goods until they reach us.”

Ashfaq Ahmad, a trader in Srinagar, the capital of Indian-administered Kashmir, said that he quotes rates on WhatsApp with his Pakistani counterpart.

“I send cumin and chilli seeds to Pakistan and in return order prayer mats and cloth,” he said.

“If there is any difference, it is adjusted in the next consignment. It is all trust-based trade but it is working.”

Indian traders export cumin, chilli pepper, cloth, cardamom, bananas, pomegranate, grapes and almonds. Prayer mats, carpets, cloth, oranges, mangos and herbs return from the Pakistani side.

Toll rises

Indian security forces continued a campaign against militants fighting for independence from India, in the wake of the Feb 14 attack that killed at least 40 paramilitary police.

Two militants of the separatist Hizbul Mujahideen were killed in a gun battle with Indian troops in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district on Tuesday.

Both militants were locals, said Tahir Saleem Khan, a police official.

Since the Pulwama attack, 15 militants have been killed in six separate gun battles in Kashmir.

Twelve Indian security personnel were killed during the operations, while two civilians also lost their lives.

Cross-border shelling between India and Pakistan has killed four civilians, with 18 injured including seven Indian troops.

Several trading groups called a strike on Tuesday to protest a ban on the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) political movement that wants independence.

Indian police have arrested more than 300 leaders and activists belonging to JeI, alleging it has links with the militants. The group denies this.

Shops and businesses were closed in many areas of Srinagar, and traffic was thin on the roads.

Police and paramilitary troops were heavily deployed in sensitive areas of the city and other major towns.