SALAMABAD: Trucks laden with fruit, honey and spices from the Kashmir Valley waited near the heavily armed frontier on Tuesday as India and Pakistan
prepared to open a trade route between the two sides for the first time in six decades.
``I was 12-years-old when I last saw baskets of fruits being packed to be sent to Rawalpindi in Pakistan,'' said Haji Abdul Ahad Bhat, a 74-year-old apple farmer from the Indian side.
The opening of the trade route was meant to bolster a 2004 peace agreement between the rivals, which has appeared increasingly fragile in recent months amid dozens of cross-border shootings and charges from New Delhi that Islamabad backed attacks in India.
Separatists on the Indian side, who have stepped up demands for a trade route between Indian and Pakistani-controlled sections of Kashmir during recent mass protests against Indian rule, also hailed it as a victory.
The trade route follows the introduction of other confidence-building measures in recent years, including the opening of rail and bus links between the two sides.
On Tuesday the mood was festive as the crowd waited for the governor of Jammu & Kashmir to flag off the 13 pickup trucks heading to the Pakistani side. Four trucks were expected from Pakistan, carrying rock salt and raisins.
Dozens of school children lined the road in Salamabad, a town near the Line of Control,, where a specially designed trading post has been set up with warehouses and security checks for the goods.
The trucks were decorated with flags and banners reading ``Long live trade across the two sides.''
The head of a fruit growers' association said he hoped the renewed trade would ``transform the relationship between India and Pakistan to a more friendly one'' and extend trade opportunities for all.
``I hope our products will not just be sent to the other side, but eventually but to Central Asia and the Gulf,'' Gulam Rasool said.
For now, the route remains largely symbolic. After the inaugural exchange Tuesday, only four trucks will be allowed across from each side once a week.
Kashmiri separatists claimed the move as a victory. ``This is the first step toward achieving economic independence for Kashmir,'' said separatist leader Mirwaiz Omer Farooq.
Separatist groups have been fighting since 1989 to end Indian rule, leaving an estimated 68,000 people, most of them civilians, dead.
6 months ago