Goods vehicles cross India-Pakistan border for first time in 60 years

October 2, 2007 - 0:0

NEW DELHI (The Guardian) -- Trucks carrying goods crossed the border between India and Pakistan Monday for the first time since the subcontinent was partitioned 60 years ago, raising hopes of peaceful trade between the neighboring countries.

The move is seen as a major step towards “normal relations” between the two, which have had three full-scale wars since independence.
Lorries carrying tomatoes passed through the heavily armed Wagah border post in Punjab.
The 30-mile road the goods traveled on has been under construction since India and Pakistan began the current phase of peace talks, in 2004, and represents a major step forward for both countries.
Over the years, Wagah has become best known in the west for the circus-like, Goose-stepping antics of rival soldiers, who march aggressively at each other in front of cheering crowds.
But the prospective peace comes at a cost. Decades of mutual animosity meant 1,000 porters spent decades carrying produce on their backs across the no man’s land that divides the two countries. Now hundreds of poor Indian and Pakistani workers are likely to lose their jobs.
As the first trucks arrived, on the Indian side, angry crowds of coolies pelted the vehicles with stones, though police quickly moved in.
There has also been anger from Punjabi farmers on the Indian side, who have protested against compulsory acquisition for the cargo terminal of 132 acres of fertile land belonging to local people.
Despite the political turmoil in Pakistan and the threat of snap polls in India, both governments are keen to press ahead with more peace moves.
The two have said they want to modernize the Wagah border to help to boost bilateral trade tenfold from the current $1bn (£500m) a year.
At present, business is routed through Dubai, where many business houses from the subcontinent are located.
There are many bureaucratic hurdles to surmount. The designated list of goods that can transit through Wagah is small, with only meat, tomatoes and onions exempted from duties.
For security reasons drivers will be required to wear bright yellow jackets with Driver India and Driver Pakistan inscribed on the back.
Also, trucks are restricted to making short trips into each other’s territory.
Allowing commercial traffic to enter any deeper, rather than just dropping off goods inside the border, seems a distant prospect. But even letting traffic cross would have been unimaginable five years ago, when both nations stood at the brink of possible nuclear war.