After trade, ‘peace’ bus comes to a halt

SRINAGAR: Two days after Cross-LOC trade came to a halt following a big drug haul from a Pakistani truck, authorities Monday suspended the Cross-LoC bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad amidst continuing standoff over the detention of a Pakistani driver allegedly involved in the smuggling.

Pakistani Kashmir authorities in response had detained 25 trucks from this side on Saturday making their release conditional to the freedom of detained Pak driver who they insisted was innocent. 

Official sources said that the Pakistan authorities have raised objections with the J&K state government asking it to suspend the peace bus unless the Pakistani driver, held on charges of smuggling narcotics in the Valley, was not released. 

The Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Travel and Trade Authority (Tata) announced it would suspend the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad Bus and Truck Service until India releases the 49 trucks and drivers from AJK that it detained the previous day.

The drivers and their trucks were detained on Friday evening after authorities in Indian-administered Kashmir accused one of them of smuggling drugs into the region.

Following the development, the state administration informed all the people, who were scheduled to undertake the journey Monday about the suspension.

“The bus service was suspended today on the objections of Pakistani officials. They’re demanding the release of their truck driver who was arrested after drugs were recovered from his truck. Negotiations between the two sides are going on,” sources added

“We received a communication this morning from Pak authorities requesting cancellation of the bus service for today,” said Passport Officer, Firdous Iqbal.

Pertinently, a truck driver Mohammad Shafiq of Muzaffarabad was arrested by Jammu and Kashmir Police on Saturday last for allegedly carrying narcotics worth Rs 114 crore in the international market from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir (PcK). Police had said that the 114 kgs of brown sugar were concealed in dry fruit bags marketed by Al-Fajar Trading Company based in Muzaffarabad. 

TATA Director General Brig (retd) Muhammad Ismail told Pakistani newspaper Express Tribune this was the second time India had spread ‘malicious propaganda’ against traders from AJK. He called for introducing a joint mechanism to avoid the suspension of cross-LoC trade.

“Making such claims without any proof or proper investigation will only benefit those who want to close the bus service and cross-LoC trade for good.” Brig Ismail said the manner in which Indian authorities recovered drugs from one of the trucks created doubts about the incident. “The presence of the Indian media and Anti-Narcotics Force when the recovery was made creates the impression that it was a drama planned to coincide with Commerce Minister Khurram Dastagir Khan’s talks with his counterpart in New Delhi.”

In response to a query as to why India would make ‘false claims’, the TATA DG said some elements in the Indian military did not want enhanced trade ties with Pakistan.

He said 90% of the cross-LoC traders belonged to families divided by the ceasefire line. He said these families relied on cross-LoC trade for their livelihood, a fact he added ‘irritates’ New Delhi.

On Saturday, officials from India and Pakistan met to negotiate the release of 76 trucks detained on both sides of the LoC. The talks, however, remained inconclusive.

Trade remains suspended

The cross LoC trade continuous to remain suspended as no headway could be made to resolve the issue between the two sides.

The trade was suspended after authorities in Pakistani Kashmir detained drivers from this side following arrest of a driver from PCK on charges of  drug smuggling.

Meanwhile, the officials at Trade Facilitation Center Salamabad (TFCS) Uri demanded proper mechanism to sort out any emerging issues between the two sides.

“It is unfortunate that there is no mechanism in place to discuss the issues that crop up during the normal business,” in charge TFCS, Uri Rashid Wani said, adding government should draft a proper mechanism for the smooth conduct of the trade.

“Such incidents can occur at any time but then there should be a mechanism to deal with the situation as suspending trade or relations are no solution”, he said.

He further said apart from drafting a mechanism with the authorities from the other side of the LoC, the government must also provide better system at the TFCS.

“The government should either limit the number of trucks travelling across or increase the manpower and improve gadgetry to make the checking easy,” he said.   

He said that there were high chances of smuggling contraband in the present mechanism. 

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