Home Economy Tomato-laden truck covers new ground for India-Pakistan trade

Tomato-laden truck covers new ground for India-Pakistan trade

By Jaideep Sarin, IANS

Attari (Punjab) : Ishwinder Singh may have been driving trucks for over a decade without being noticed. But when he folded his hands Monday and wished goodbye while sporting a bright yellow jacket saying ‘Driver India’, he knew he was creating history at the international border between India and Pakistan.

Sixty years after they became separate nations Aug 1947, India and Pakistan — for the first time — Monday allowed trucks to carry goods into each other’s territory marking a milestone in direct trade between the two countries.

“After the trains, buses and people to people contact, starting this limited truck service will change the way of trade between the two countries,” said farmer Rajpal Singh who came to witness the ceremony.

Two cargo trucks were to be sent from the Indian side Monday.

Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal flagged off the first consignment of tomatoes in a decorated truck on the Indian side of the border.

But on the Pakistani side, the response to the “historic” event was lukewarm at best.

As Badal, accompanied by son and MP Sukhbir Badal, ministers and Amritsar MP Navjot Singh Sidhu walked up to the zero-line twice, only a few officers of Pakistani Rangers — the Pakistan border guards — were present to greet them.

While the Indian side wore a festive look with flags, banners, Bhangra-dancers and patriotic songs in full force, there was hardly anyone on the Pakistan side as the government there cold-shouldered the event.

Earlier it was expected that Pakistan Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz or chief minister of the Pakistani part of Punjab would flag off a Pakistani truck with goods for India and welcome the Indian cargo. But none of that happened.

Badal was quick to shrug off the cold shoulder.

“I don’t know why they did not do anything. But we must not get into these small things. Today our truck was supposed to go. You should understand that this trade will benefit India and Punjab a lot,” Badal said after the flagging-off.

Instead of being an official ceremony of the state government, the event looked like a function of the ruling Akali Dal with Badal and other party leaders taking centre stage and about 300 supporters converging for the function at this joint check post at the border.

As per the agreement between both countries, trucks from both sides will be allowed to cross the international border and unload their cargo at the customs house of the other country. So far, goods used to be unloaded in their countries of origin and then carried manually by hundreds of porters on both sides.

When it came to large volumes, goods used to be shipped via the Kandla-Dubai-Karachi route. With the time, distance and money involved, that process made no business sense.

“Trade between both countries will increase four-five times in volume. This is a welcome step. Everyone will stand to benefit — traders, farmers and governments,” said exporter Rajdeep Uppal of Narain exports corporation, which sent the first consignment.

Both countries allow six-seven items for export and import. These include perishables like vegetables and fruits, livestock, dry fruits, meat and poultry.

Traders based in Amritsar, 30 km from here, want more items to be included on the list. Chief Minister Badal echoed their sentiments.

“Trade should not only be allowed more freely but from multiple entry points. We are acquiring 120 acres of land near the border to create an integrated check post with a separate trade gate. Punjab was waiting for this trade to open up. I wish there had been no partition. We have made a small beginning. More things will follow,” Badal said.