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Signs of thaw in bitter South Asian dispute

Trade reopens after 60 years along Kashmir's 'Berlin Wall.'

(Page 2 of 2)

But they are brittle achievements in danger of being broken if the political temperature changes. "It is a trend, but it can be reversed very easily," says Salman Haider, a former foreign secretary of India.

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In Baramullah, there is hope of the opposite – that economics could at last begin to loosen the Kashmir knot.

Above Baramullah, black fingers of bare apple trees scrabble a mist that wraps the Himalaya beyond, like cellophane moistened by the first breath of winter. Baramullah's lifeblood is its fruit industry, particularly apples. Butt estimates that 80 percent of Kashmiris in the valley – the heart of Kashmir – depend on the fruit industry. But the Kashmir Valley's historic link to the world is through Muzaffarabad – a route severed by the LoC.

Forced to trade only through India, goods from the valley had to pass southward through a mile-long tunnel. When the tunnel was closed during a series of protests this summer, apple growers lost $120 million, Butt says.

The opening of cross-LoC trade was a compromise that highlighted the flexibility needed to resolve the Kashmir question, says Masood Hussain, Kashmir writer for the Economic Times, an Indian newspaper.

In recent years, it has become clear that neither India nor Pakistan will cede any part of its Kashmir to the other, nor is either likely to support an independent Kashmir. The new trade points to what many analysts say must be the final solution: a semi-autonomous state shared between the two.

"If the borders are already drawn, there can only be an economic way out, and if economics is the solution, then that road [to Muzaffarabad] will be very important," says Mr. Hussain.

High hurdles remain for trade

Apple grower Butt notes that his fruit is not subject to customs duties when he sends them to Muzaffarabad. "We are not going to accept the Line of Control as a permanent border," he says. "It must be free trade ... between Kashmir and Kashmir."

For now, however, the new trade route has failed to do much of anything to help growers, he acknowledges. Instead, it has served primarily to highlight how much more needs to be done.

One lingering security measure means that there are no phone connections from Indian Kashmir to Pakistani Kashmir, making it difficult for Butt to conduct business across the LoC. Moreover, banks in India and Pakistan have no links, meaning neither Indian nor Pakistani Kashmiris can cash the others' checks. Until these banking ties are established, a portion of the business is done by bartering Pakistani onions and pomegranates for Indian apples. The Indian government then sends a delegation of farmers to Pakistan to pick up the balance in cash.

A total of 21 curiously specific items can be traded across the LoC – from apples to leather slippers, walnut-wood furniture, and pillow covers. Combine these limitations with five-hour delays at the LoC, where Indian authorities make drivers unload every box for inspection, and the cross-LoC trade has been understandably minuscule.

On Oct. 21, for example, the Kashmir Valley produced about 425,000 boxes of apples. The 1,038 shipped to Pakistani Kashmir were 0.2 percent of that total.

Nonetheless, Butt is happy to be patient. "This is our own route," he says, speaking as a Kashmiri. "As the Berlin Wall was brought down, we will bring the Line of Control down."