Until two years ago, Aamir Ataullah said his future as a merchant in the Indian town of Uri, close to the border with Pakistan, seemed bright.
The 28-year-old was among hundreds of barter traders plying their goods along the Line of Control that divides Kashmir between the nuclear-armed neighbors, which opened cross-border trade in 2008 as part of measures to ease tensions.
The move was an economic godsend for Uri’s 150,000 residents, especially traders, labourers and drivers. Small hotels, restaurants and the market area began thriving in the once-sleepy town.
Then India abruptly halted all trading activity in April 2019, cutting off the livelihoods of Aamir and many others who had come to rely on cross-border trade.
“I had a lot of dreams then,” said Aamir, a law graduate from Kashmir University. “We’d thought the trade would improve further, more items would be allowed to be traded and the process would be further simplified.”
The government cited “illegal weapons, narcotics and fake currency” as reasons for the clampdown.
Ataullah Handoo, Aamir’s 75-year-old father, estimated that more than 150 labourers from Uri town and its adjoining villages, who were engaged in loading and unloading goods-laden trucks, lost their jobs after the trade was suspended. About 340 traders also suffered losses.
“Because of this cross-border trade, hundreds of poor people here got jobs as labourers, drivers and there was a hustle and bustle in the town. All the trade went through this town,” said Handoo, who was also a barter trader.
“But when it stopped all of a sudden, everything collapsed and a lot of people lost their source of income. The money of some traders was stuck across the border. We had no other avenue to retrieve it since it was a barter trade.”
A few months later, New Delhi unilaterally revoked the limited autonomy of Indian-held Kashmir, and further divided and downgraded the region into two centrally governed union territories.
“After the trade was suspended in April 2019, whatever hopes of resumption we had were killed on August 5 when everything shut down for months and all our means of communications were snapped,” Aamir said, referring to the telecommunications lockdown imposed by New Delhi.