India suspends cross border trade in Kashmir in new crackdown

In this photo, Pakistani trucks are queued up at India-Pakistan Kashmir border. (Photo Courtesy: AFP)
Updated 20 April 2019
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India suspends cross border trade in Kashmir in new crackdown

  • Alleges route being used to funnel weapons and drugs
  • There was no immediate reaction from Pakistan

NEW DELHI: India suspended cross-border trade with Pakistan-controlled Kashmir because it was being used to funnel weapons and drugs, the government said on Thursday, in a further crackdown in the volatile territory.
Trade across the “Line of Control” (LoC), or the heavily militarized de facto border that divides the two parts of Kashmir between India and Pakistan, has served as a confidence-building measure and to help the local population.
But tensions between India and Pakistan have been running high ever since a Pakistan-based militant group claimed responsibility for bombing a security convoy in Kashmir.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in the middle of a tightening election race, ordered air strikes on a suspected camp of the Jaish-e-Mohammad group in northwest Pakistan, prompting a retaliatory air raid by Pakistan.
On Thursday, the Indian home ministry said it had been receiving information that militant groups were using the cross border route to send arms, drugs and fake Indian currency.
“Unscrupulous and anti-national elements are using the route as a conduit for money, drugs and weapons, under the garb of this trade,” the ministry said.
It said that inquiries by the National Investigation Agency had shown a significant number of firms engaged in the cross border trade were being operated by people with links to militant groups. It did not name anyone.
Trade operates on a barter system, where no money is exchanged. 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.
Soon after the attack on the Indian security convoy, India withdrew Most Favored Nation status to Pakistan, accusing the neighbour of not doing enough to rein in militant groups operating from its soil.
Pakistan denied any involvement in the attack.
The Indian government said on Thursday it believed that following the withdrawal of favoured status, more goods from Pakistan could be routed through the cross-border channels in Kashmir to avoid the higher duties.
“It has, therefore, been decided by the Government of India to suspend the LoC trade at Salamabad and Chakkan-da-Bagh in Jammu and Kashmir with immediate effect,” the government said referring to the points from where the trade took place.
There was no immediate reaction from Pakistan.


Iranian FM leaves Pakistan with little more than promise of moral support

Updated 26 May 2019
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Iranian FM leaves Pakistan with little more than promise of moral support

  • Mounting tensions between Tehran and Washington are threatening to blow up into an all-out conflict
  • Pakistani foreign minister assures Iran ready to work with all sides to lower regional tensions

ISLAMABAD: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif left Islamabad Friday evening after a two-day visit in which Pakistan said it was ready to work with all sides to help lower mounting tensions between the Islamic Republic and the United States, though experts believe Islamabad can offer Tehran little more than moral support. 
Zarif arrived in Islamabad on Thursday night, ahead of next week’s emergency Arab League meeting summoned by Saudi Arabia over escalating tensions in the Arabian Gulf region.
“Foreign Minister Qureshi conveyed that Pakistan stood ready to work with all sides to help lower tensions and preserve peace and stability in the region,” the Pakistani foreign office said in a statement on Thursday night. “He also emphasized that Pakistan did not favor a conflict and believed that all sides should exercise maximum restraint and work in a spirit of easing the tensions.”
The United States pulled out of an agreement between Iran and world powers a year ago that limited Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting economic sanctions. This month tensions have risen sharply following US President Donald Trump’s decision to try to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and beef up US military presence in the Gulf in response to what he says are Iranian threats.
“Any miscalculation or accident could escalate the tensions to a dangerous level,” the foreign office statement said, quoting Qureshi.
Britain, France and Germany, which signed the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, along with the United States, China and Russia, are determined to show they can compensate for last year’s US withdrawal from the deal, protect trade and still dissuade Tehran from quitting an accord designed to prevent it developing a nuclear bomb.
But Iran’s decision earlier this month to backtrack from some commitments in response to US measures to cripple its economy threatens to unravel the deal, under which Tehran agreed to curbs on its uranium enrichment program in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions.
Speaking about the nuclear deal, the Pakistan foreign minister said Pakistan supported the plan and “noted the efforts of the other parties to the Agreement to salvage the deal.”
“Faithful implementation of obligations by all parties was vitally important,” he said in a veiled reference to the US pulling out of the deal and Iran backtracking on some commitments.
Zarif also met with Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday and discussed issues of “bilateral interest,” according to a statement from the PM Office. In a statement released after Zarif called on army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, the military leader was quoted as saying, “war is not in anyone’s interest and all sides need to make efforts to keep conflict away from the region.”
Shamshad Ahmad, a former foreign secretary, said the Iranian foreign minister’s visit to Islamabad was part of a “consultative process” between the two neighboring countries to chalk out ways to tackle the unraveling situation in the Arabian Gulf.
“We are geo-politically linked with Iran, and if something bad happens to Iran, Pakistan will automatically feel its consequences,” Ahmad told Arab News. “Javad Zarif is here to explain Iran’s position and take the Pakistani leadership into confidence over the recent regional tensions.”
Ahmad said the timing of Zarif’s visit was “very important” just days before Prime Minister Khan is due to visit Saudi Arabia on May 31 to participate in a summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) body.
“The situation emerging in the Gulf is very serious not only for Iran, but also for the whole region,” he said, “But Pakistan can only extend moral support to Iran in the current scenario. We have our own limitations and international obligations to abide by … [we] cannot risk falling into the trap of US sanctions.”
This month, Pakistan said it had informed Iran in writing that it could not execute a $7 billion Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline project as long as Tehran was under a United States sanctions regime, driving the final nail in the coffin of a project that was conceived in the 1990s to connect Iran’s giant South Pars gas field to India via Pakistan.
Tehran formally issued a notice to Islamabad in February this year, saying it was moving an arbitration court against Pakistan for failing to lay down the pipeline in Pakistani territory in the timeframe stipulated in the bilateral agreement. Pakistan has until August this year to legally respond to Iran’s notice and settle the issue through negotiations.
Relations between Iran and Pakistan have been strained in recent months, with both sides accusing each other of not doing enough to stamp out militants allegedly sheltering across the border.
During Friday’s meeting between the Pakistani and Iranian foreign ministers, they spoke about ways to improve ties, including discussions on how to increase bilateral trade, facilitate people to people contact, open new border markets and crossing points, and enhance security in their frontier regions.