Trade and people-to-people ties between India and Pakistan will take on a new dimension when the Integrated Check Post (ICP) at the Attari-Wagah international border between the two countries will be formally inaugurated this week.
The ICP will see its soft launch Sunday - coinciding with the visit to India of President Asif Ali Zardari - with passengers using the ICP terminal for the first time to go across to Pakistan.
Home Minister P. Chidambaram is to formally inaugurate the ICP at Attari, 30 km from Amritsar, on April 13, which is Baisakhi day (harvest festival) in Punjab that heralds a new year.
“All equipment and facilities for customs, immigration and other things are being checked. The ICP will be formally inaugurated April 13 after the soft launch April 8,” said A.E. Ahmad, India’s secretary for border management.
Essentially aimed at improving trade between the two countries through the land border route, the ICP is expected to boost trade in the coming years. While India will have its ICP at Attari, Pakistan will have its own one at Wagah (in Pakistan).
The ICP inside Pakistan is likely to be inaugurated by Pakistan’s commerce minister and the (West) Punjab chief minister.
The ICP will have dedicated cargo and passenger terminals under one roof for the smooth transition of people and cargo from India to Pakistan.
“Trade with Pakistan could increase by a minimum of five times in the coming years. The Attari ICP has most modern facilities,” a customs official said.
Built at a cost of nearly Rs.150 crore and spread over about 130 acres, the Attari ICP’s completion is one year behind schedule. It was originally scheduled to be completed in April last year. This will be the first of the 13 ICPs that India is building along the international border with other countries.
However, officials here say the facilities at the Wagah ICP in Pakistan may not be able at present to match the ones in Attari in terms of technology, equipment and handling the volume of cargo and passengers. Pakistan has only two gates at its ICP and old warehouses.
Among other things, installation of truck scanners and drug scanners is being considered by the central government at the Attari ICP.
Though traders dealing with import and export to and from Pakistan are upbeat about the ICP project, they want the governments of both the countries to give another push so that trade between them could increase manifold.