Attari, Punjab: Trade between India and Pakistan through the land border route is expected to go up almost 10 times with the formal inauguration on Friday of the newly-built integrated check post (ICP) at Attari, along the international border between the two neighbours.
Leaders from India and Pakistan on Friday talked of making the border into a "soft border" by improving trade ties for greater peace during inauguration of the ICP, 30 km from the Sikh holy city of Amritsar.
The ICP was inaugurated by union Home Minister P. Chidambaram in the presence of Pakistan's Commerce Minister Amin Fahim, Pakistani Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Indian Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, and union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, among others.
"Trade between both countries will get a boost with the opening of the new ICP. We will have 13 such ICPs along the borders with Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh," Mr Chidambaram said after inaugurating the facility.
Talking to reporters later, Mr Chidambaram said the Indian government had made some suggestions to make the visa procedures simpler for people of both countries. He said that Pakistan's response to this was awaited.
"I am very happy that the ICP project has been completed and made operational on the auspicious day of Baisakhi," Mr Badal said in his address.
He urged the governments of India and Pakistan to "also open trade from the Hussainiwala border (in Ferozepur district)". He also sought that the facility to issue visas for Pakistan should be made available at Amritsar.
"The trade from Hussainiwala used to take place earlier but was stopped due to some reasons. We should use the land border as the gateway to progress and prosperity for the region. We have seen enough misery in the past and now we must look at the future through trade ties," Mr Badal said.
Shehbaz Sharif said that both sides of Punjab had suffered in the past due to the partition (August 1947) and subsequent wars (1965 and 1971).
"We saw partition and fought wars. This was not good for the people. It is time to address this issue and leave the miseries behind. Even though we are both nuclear powers, war is not an option. We should now fight the war of economic competition, education and other things," Mr Sharif said.
The ICP, 30 km from Amritsar (280 km from Chandigarh) saw a soft launch on Sunday prior to its formal inauguration on Friday.
The new ICP, spread over nearly 120 acres and built at a cost of nearly Rs 150 crore, will have state-of-the-art facilities with dedicated terminals for cargo and passengers.
The new ICP is located about 300 metres from the Zero Line and is parallel to the area from where the customs, immigration and cargo sections were operating earlier.
The ICP will integrate the services of immigration, customs, cargo and handling of trucks. It will have 16 immigration counters and 12 customs counters. Among other facilities, the ICP will also have a helipad for emergency needs.
A senior official of the union department of border management said the ICP will have a dedicated cargo area of 4,700 square metres. It will also have an area of 55,000 square metres for parking of trucks.
"The whole area will be continuously monitored by 250 CCTV cameras installed at the ICP premises," the official said.
Trade between both sides is nearly $2.5 billion, but is expected to go up 10 times with Pakistan initiating the process to accord most favoured nation (MFN) status to India for trade.