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Brakes on LoC trade

- Pak trucker held with drugs, 26 Indians stuck in PoK

Jan. 19: Trade across the Line of Control between the two parts of Kashmir has run into trouble after Pakistani authorities detained 26 Indian drivers in retaliation to the arrest of a Pakistani driver here for ferrying narcotics worth over Rs 100 crore.

The driver from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir was arrested on Friday after 114 packets of contraband brown sugar were recovered from his truck at Salamabad in Uri close to the Line of Control. He was accompanying 48 other truckers bringing goods from across the LoC.

Police said the drugs weighed around 100kg and were worth Rs 100 crore in the international market — the biggest haul since the resumption of cross-LoC trade in 2008.

Khawaja Ghulam Ahmad, the district magistrate of Baramulla, where Uri falls, said the 48 Pakistani truckers are stuck here because Pakistan was refusing to take them in.

“They (Pakistanis) want all the 49 truckers to be returned to their side, which is not possible as the man (arrested driver) was caught with drugs and can’t be returned without facing the law here,” he said.

“They claim they will try him in their land but the law is clear that a person arrested for any crime has to be tried where he committed the crime.”

Khawaja said the Pakistanis have detained 26 Indian drivers and seized their trucks. “They are not allowing them to return,” he said.

Official sources said they are in touch with their counterparts in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

“But they are adamant. The J&K government is likely to take up the matter with our external affairs ministry who would take it up with Pakistani counterparts. In the meantime, trade has stopped.”

The head of the Trade and Travel Authority in Pakistani-occupied Kashmir, speaking to reporters in Muzaffarabad, rejected the drug smuggling charge. “We believe such accusations and irresponsible actions will vitiate the atmosphere and hamper efforts to promote the trade ties,” Muhammad Ismail said.

Ismail criticised the Indian authorities for holding more than 40 Pakistani trucks and their drivers and added that “we have also held 27 Indian trucks”. Indian officials, however, put the figure at 26.

Sources in Indian Kashmir said they suspect the money earned from selling the drugs might have been used to fund militancy, as has happened in the past.

Cross-LoC trade was started as a major confidence building measure in 2008 at the peak of the anti-Amarnath land agitation, as a concession to Kashmiri traders who had tried to forcibly open trade with the other Kashmir when protesters in Jammu enforced a blockade on the Jammu-Srinagar road.

While trade in the Valley has been suspended, India and Pakistan yesterday agreed to boost trade ties through the Attari-Wagah international border by keeping the crossing open for seven days round the clock and giving non-discriminatory market access to each other.