He headed Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) at its most critical juncture. After his extended tenure was over, Dr Mubeen Shah flew abroad to take care of his family business. Back home in 2012, he was elected President of J&K Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industries (JKJCCI) – a loose association of trading stakeholders in the trans-LoC trade. Almost after a month of his election, Dr Shah sat with Tasavur Mushtaq

Kashmir Life: When the cross-LoC trade started on October 21, 2008, there were 600 traders, but now there are only 70 because of problems allegedly created by the administration and the police. What needs to be done?
Dr Mubeen Shah:
First of all the number of trucks crossing LoC, because of increase in volume of trade, need to be increased on urgent basis. Keeping in view the condition of Salamabad route, we cannot increase the tonnage of trucks, while from Poonch side heavier trucks are going. There as well, we need to increase number of trucks. This will help us in not having backlog on any day of trade. The processing (time) of each truck can be considerably reduced if there is whole body truck scanner available at the trade facilitation centre (TFC), for which demand has been already put forth. Nothing has been done in this regard. Delay in taking the above two decisions gives rise to more number of vehicles than the vehicles which can be processed resulting in undue interference by the concerned agencies in the smooth conduct of the trade.

KL: The trade volume on both Salamabad-Chokoti and Chakandabagh-Rawalakote routes has increased and total import and export has been reportedly Rs 1,600 crore since 2008. Does that offer an idea of its future potential?
If there would have been no hurdles, sky is the limit for the trade. If we see in 18th century, this route would handle trade which is equal to Rs 62000 crore of present value. I believe with required infrastructure and both government of India and Pakistan agreeing to transit trade, sky is the limit.

KL: India and Pakistan have agreed to open this route for items produced or manufactured on either side of the LoC. That prevents trading in items that are produced in the rest of Pakistan and India. Do you think this restriction is preventing the trade to flourish?
There are restrictions but certain fruits are going from here and coming from there as well.
But the trading community in 2008 supported opening of LoC for trade based on a premise that after some time transit trade will be allowed, which is trade of third country particularly central Asia, Russia, China, Turkey, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Iran, Middle East and turkey. Allowing third nation will surely flourish the trade.

KL: There are plans for laying oil and gas pipelines across national frontiers. In such a context is there any place for barter trade, which is being practiced across the LoC?
Barter trade was started basically because of opposition of people of J&K not to convert LoC into international boundary. Lot of people from both sides feel that if it is done in US dollars, LoC will get converted into international border. Other side of it was that lot of people in India feel that if it is done in US dollars, India will lose claim on other side of Kashmir. It is because of this misgiving both Government of India and Government of Pakistan agreed to the barter system. Recommendations were given to do trade in Indian and Pakistan currency. This would have been executed if banks from both sides had opened their branches (across the LoC).

KL: Barter trade demands the survival of the fittest, where, economists say, only 40 to 50 out of 500 survive. Do you think it is going to happen to the cross LoC traders?
Even in barter trade people can survive, provided traders community from both sides are given the basic requirements that are mandatory for any kind of trade which unfortunately has not happened in last three years. Multiple visit permits should be given to bonafide traders who can travel to the other side whenever there is need to visit their customers or suppliers. This step will ensure barter will survive till both the governments will put in place the banking system.

KL: LoC traders remain “united in misery”. This is the state of the only initiative of some consequence on Kashmir between the two countries, apart from the bus service which began in 2005. How do you get trade and traders out of this misery?
JKJCCI is advocating for certain steps and those will help our endeavor to advocate our stand with all the four governments (of Pakistan administered Kashmir, Pakistan, India and J&K). JKJCCI is only organization which can talk to all the four governments to bring trade and traders out of misery.

KL: Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and India’s Minister for External Affairs S M Krishna in New Delhi last July agreed to permit trading for four days a week, as against the previous two days a week. Adequate facilities were to be provided to traders, including telephonic communications and permission for personal interaction. What happened in follow up?
These are things which we are going to take up with all the four governments concerned. It is certain that without proper infrastructure, communication and banking system, this trade will not flourish and in absence of transit, trade will not grow. Our dream is that J&K should become a trading hub.

KL: You have earlier demanded a ‘rupee trade’, pointing out that India is having a rupee trade with Nepal and Bhutan, so the system can be applied to intra-Kashmir trade as well. How authorities are going to take it?
It was one of the reasons of doing barter trade basically to insist on system to allay fears of all concerns regarding conversion of LoC into international border. If system of banking is agreed to, there is no reason that trade would not flourish.

KL: Traders from the two sides cannot meet, making the prevalent regime a ‘blind trade’ system in which the trader has no way of assessing the market. What is required to make it long lasting and transparent?
There is need to move regularly. There is need to visit each other as it happens in normal trade within state, within different states and also within different countries. Without frequent visit, the trade will not flourish and will surely be restricted.

KL: You are in trade for so long now. What should the trader’s community expect from you as the president of JKJCCI?
My expectations for serving the trade is that during my presidency, I should be able to streamline the trade and institutionalize it, so that it represents trade in an efficient manner with all the four governments. Also I should be able to convince governments from both sides for transit trade which will certainly lead to our vision of Free Economic Zone (FEZ) along with International Financial Centre (IFC). To have FEZ and IFC is our long cherished dream.


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