Wagah is significant for all the right reasons. First, it is the much thronged site for people to celebrate the spectacle of Pakistan’s nationhood and cheer our robust jawans in a remarkable show of valour aimed at outwitting those on the other side of the border; second, it is the point of entry for passengers coming to and from India; and third, because of the ongoing trade with India.

The attack near Wagah border, the main entry point between India and Pakistan, was apparently aimed to disrupt normalisation of relations between the two countries. It also aimed to create panic among the public by targeting law-enforcement agencies, as claimed by the media, in retaliation to the military operation in North Waziristan. Both aims were successfully achieved.

Scores of people died, Rangers personnel on duty, whereas trade between India and Pakistan was suspended immediately resulting in colossal losses to the national exchequer. The disruption in trade was due to security reasons on our side of the border as no truck was allowed to enter or exit the premises by the Rangers.

However, it is important to note that even at the height of cross-border tensions between Pakistan and India, in recent times the border entry point between the two countries had remained peaceful, trade was not halted and the border ceremonies continued as usual. But the recent dash of mad extremism has wreaked much collateral damage on our side.

Pointing out the responsibility, Kuldip Nayyar in his article ‘Target Wagah’ published in the Indian Express on November 5, rightly diagnosed the malaise of Pakistan saying that “once a liberal Muslim state” is now “taking pride in its fanaticism”. Pakistan has changed over the years, he lamented rightly. Indeed this change is felt severely in our core set of values, morals, ideology and institutions.

Although the task of institution building had been on a steady decline over the past years, but when it comes to trade with India the mention of the Customs Liaison Border Committee (CLBC) deserves merit. The forum has lent credence to viable customs-to-customs cooperation across the border since its inception and resolved day to day operational issues related to trade with practicable solutions and workable alternatives – both in peacetime and when tense situations occur as happened recently. It is the mutual confidence between the customs administration on both sides that allowed for trade to be normalised trade after the bombing.

The CLBC was established in furtherance of the composite dialogue process between India and Pakistan culminating in a joint statement by India and Pakistan on trade facilitation in 2007. Seventeen meetings have been held so far, alternately after every two months in Amritsar and Lahore, which have taken enormous steps for trade facilitation with an aim to simplify customs and port procedures for the unhindered and expeditious flow of trade.

These steps include standardisation of import/export documentation, extending working hours, cross border movement of trucks to designated points on the other side of Wagah/Attari border to save time, introducing the process of single entry permit (SEP) by obviating the need for passports, visas and international driving licences for drivers besides establishing a hotline between the two customs administrations with emphasis on exchange of information. Resultantly, the process of trading with India became less of a hassle than before.

On the other hand, there is a plan to develop infrastructure keeping in view the fact that the Wagah border is the only designated land route between Pakistan and India and has the potential to accelerate the momentum of trade between the two neighbours in the future. At present there are a host of reforms being carried out at the Wagah border to bolster trade with India including automation to reduce manual control, introduction of risk based system to speed up clearances, idea of palletisation to reduce time of unloading by manual labour.

Moreover, a study recently completed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank suggested improving the time processes for arrival, clearance and release of goods reflecting the interest of our government in promoting Wagah as a future hotspot of trade.

The process of modernisation and reforms must go on as envisaged. As trade has opened gradually after the blast there is a need to improve inter-agency coordination between the NLC, Rangers and Customs at Wagah for sustaining the momentum of trade in future. Let the agenda of trade facilitation not be derailed by the mad frenzy of extremism.

The writer holds an LLM degree in international economic law from the University of Warwick.