Is Pakistan using the barter trade through the Jammu and Kashmir border to fuel protests in the valley?
National Investigation Agency investigations indicate the India-Pakistan border barter trade in Jammu and Kashmir in the last few years is under-invoiced by at least Rs 75 crores, top Union Home Ministry sources said. "Funds generated by the under-invoiced goods are being used to fund protest," sources confirmed.
The NIA is probing if the border barter trade is under-invoiced and cash generated by under-invoicing of incoming goods is being used to fund protesters in the valley.
"The investigations are being pursued seriously and will be complete soon," Director General of NIA Sharad Kumar told HuffPost India.
By-polls to the Srinagar parliamentary elections saw massive protests. Re-polling has been ordered in at least 38 polling stations. Eight people were killed and several thousand injured in the violence. The polling for Anantnag parliamentary seat has been differed by over a month from 12 April to 25 May. In 2016, over 80 people were killed in protests and several thousand, including security personnel, were injured in stone throwing and violence.
New Delhi maintains that while there could be some genuine reasons for anger within a section of people in J&K, much of the violent protest is being funded and engineered. Last year, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh led an all-party delegation of Parliamentarians to the valley to engage stakeholders.
There are two border trading points in Jammu and Kashmir—the Uri-Muzaffarabad route and Poonch-Rawalakot route. These routes were opened for trade in October 2008 after a gap of 61 years.
The idea behind this major confidence building measures was to foster and increase "people-to-people" contact between Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and the Kashmir valley controlled by India. About 21 items have been approved for trade. Some estimates, arrived at on the prices of goods provided by the traders, indicate commodities worth nearly 15 billion Indian rupees ($220 miillion) were exported to Pakistan on the Uri-Muzaffarabad and Poonch-Rawalakot routes between 2013-14 and 2015-16. India imported nearly Rs 13 billion ($190 million) during the same period.
And, despite the tension between the two countries since last year, the J&K government had asked for more trade routes to be opened.
"There is no decision yet to close down the border barter trade despite evidence that funds generated from under-invoicing is being used to fuel the unrest," a senior MHA official said.
How are funds generated from under-invoicing? Goods are bartered through these two trading points. Goods from Pakistan are imported at cost lower than its value. A kind of super profit is generated by selling these goods further in India. The excess, so generated, is used to fund protest.
Worrying religious tone of protest
New Delhi is also concerned about the overtly religious tone of the current protest in the valley. It feels that money is being channeled into J&K to give protest a religious colour.
The Hizbul Mujahideen (HM), for instance, in a recent statement said that the fight in Kashmir isn't for an independent homeland but "Islam." Unlike the Lasher-e-Toiba and the Jash-e-Mohammed, the HM is considered to be the only "Kashmiri" militant group.
New Delhi, therefore, hasn't responded to feelers from the state government and other stake-holders to re-start a political initiative. "On the contrary both the Prime Minister Office and Union Home Minister, Rajnath Singh has asked for a strong response to quell the violence. Protest will have handled with a heavy hand," top sources said.