Across the Radcliffe Line: Reconnecting the Punjab

If all goes well in the next few weeks, overland trade between India and Pakistan across the international border in the Punjab will get a big boost.

After decades of restrictions that stifled commerce across what was a single economic space until the Partition, the open door for bilateral trade across the Radcliffe Line could help alter the politics of India-Pakistan relations in both countries.

As part of the road map on trade normalisation between the two countries, Pakistan has agreed, in principle, to allow the import of all tradable items across the Wagah-Attari border in the Punjab.

Earlier this year, Pakistan had started trading with India on the basis of a small negative list of about 1,200 items. By the end of this year, Pakistan is expected to implement the most-favoured-status for India.

Under the rules of the World Trading Organisation, the MFN status is about lifting discriminatory practices against another country.

The MFN status would not have meant much for the divided states of the Punjab, because Pakistan has allowed, until now, only 137 items to be imported via the land border in the Punjab.

The commerce ministry in Pakistan has now moved the cabinet to remove the constraints on overland trade between the two countries. If the cabinet approves, the flood gates for commerce in the Punjab could open by the end of October.

Traders on both sides of the Radcliffe Line have long demanded the lifting of all barriers against commerce between India and Pakistan.

Historically, the Punjab connected the subcontinent to inner Asia and the Persian Gulf through the trans-Indus territories. The Partition of the Subcontinent resulted not just in the political division of the Punjab but also its economic marginalisation.

Not surprisingly the chief ministers of Punjab on both sides have become major champions of reviving the trade and commercial relations across the Radcliffe Line.

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