Days after it suspended the Samjhauta Express as part of downgrading diplomatic ties with India over the latter’s move to scrap Article 370 granting special status to J&K, Pakistan also stopped a bus service between both countries.
On Saturday, a Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) bus made its way from Amritsar to Lahore for the last time. The decision to scrap was announced Friday evening.
The PTDC bus used to spend three nights in Amritsar — Friday, Wednesday and Monday — each week and leave for Pakistan on Saturday. Similarly, Indian buses spend three nights in Pakistan. According to Pakistan, these buses will remain suspended for now.
The bus service was first started in February 1999. It was suspended after the 2001 Parliament attack and restarted in July 2003. While few used it to cross the border, with most preferring to travel by foot, the service was more a symbol of diplomatic relations.
On Saturday, not a single passenger was on board the bus that left for Lahore.
The number of people travelling between India and Pakistan has also decreased over the years. A total of 54,559 people had entered India via the Attari-Wagah road link in 2014-15 and 51,213 went to Pakistan the same year. The number of passengers coming from Pakistan reduced to 37,020 in 2018-19, while 40,386 went to Pakistan the same year.
Suspense over trade
While there has been no official confirmation about shutdown of trade at the Integrated Check Post (ICP), Attari, Indian traders say they are not sure how long it will last.
“Around 1,500 Indian trucks were operating here before Pulwama. These were transporting Pakistani goods to different parts of country. India raised the excise duty by 200 per cent after the Pulwama attack and trade dipped sharply. The number of trucks reduced to less than 500 after Pulwama. Now we have been told by traders that trade may come to a complete halt. Truck owners and drivers will be badly affected by it,” said Shinda, president of the Attari Truck Union.
“We have no official communication from customs or any other officials that trade is going to shut down. But traders in Pakistan are panicking. I have talked to a few of them and they said they were in negotiation with their government. We have loaded some goods even today to send Pakistan. But I am not sure if it will be delivered or not,” said Manav Taneja, a trader.
“We have no official communication about shutdown of trade. It is already very low via ICP. It would be more symbolic if Pakistan decided to stop it completely,” said an official of the Land Port Authority of India.
There has been rapid increase in the import via ICP Attari since 2014, but the net value of the trade has decreased. The total import from Pakistan in 2014-15 was worth Rs 2,367 crore, which had touched Rs 3,627 crore in 2018-19. Hence, suspension of trade will hit Pakistani traders hard.
However, there was a sharp decrease in export from India to Pakistan in the same period. The total value of export was Rs 2,117 crore in 2014-15, which came down to just Rs 726 crore in 2018-19. The total value of import-export between both countries via Attari also decreased from Rs 4485 crore in 2014-15 to Rs 4,356 crore in 2018-19.
Pakistan allows the import of only 138 items from India through the road route of ICP Attari. Major items of export are soya bean, spares for automotives, chicken feed, biscuits, vegetables, newsprint, red chillies, plastic granules, cotton and mutton.
Major items of import are gypsum, soda ash, cement, dry fruit, Plaster of Paris, dry dates, caustic soda flake/liquid, coal, glass and rock salt.
Kartarpur Corridor project offers hope
While trade remained affected, the Kartarpur corridor project has remained a beacon of hope for both countries.
Punjab Cooperation and Jails Minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa had on Friday held a meeting with concerned officers to take stock of preparations for the 550th birthday anniversary of Guru Nanak and construction of the corridor.