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‘Diplomatic’ spat over Pak truck driver

Srinagar, Jan. 20: Authorities in Kashmir say it’s a no-brainer. Diplomats, after all, don’t go around driving trucks.

So, please come up with something more “intelligent”, they have told their counterparts across the border.

If Kashmir’s topmost administrative officer, Shailendra Kumar, is to be believed, Pakistani authorities have claimed diplomatic immunity for a truck driver arrested here for ferrying narcotics.

The alleged claim has come at a time the standoff — which began on Friday after the driver was caught with Rs 100 crore worth of narcotics and was followed by the tit-for-tat detention of over two dozen Indian truckers across the border — worsened today.

Pakistan cancelled the weekly Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, the peace caravan that was introduced in 2005 as a confidence-building measure.

Trade across the Line of Control has remained suspended since Friday.

“Yes, they (the Pakistanis) are claiming (diplomatic immunity for the truck driver). We advised (them) that you please seek the advice of your superiors because diplomatic immunity is available to diplomats (and) … they (diplomats) don’t drive trucks, that too with narcotics,” Kumar, Kashmir’s divisional commissioner, told The Telegraph.

Kumar was speaking about yesterday’s meeting between retired brigadier Mohammad Ismael Khan, director-general of trade and travel, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and Baramulla district magistrate Khawaja Ghulam Ahmad at Kaman Post that overlooks the LoC.

An officer, who was part of the meeting, said he didn’t hear any Pakistani official making such a claim. “All I heard them say was that they should return the driver and that they would try him in their country,” he said.

Kumar, however, insisted the Pakistanis did make such a claim, but added that he would rather take it as a joke. “I have to move on an optimistic platform and would not like to create a diplomatic problem,” he said.

“I am not sure whether they were joking. At times when we talk, certain things are raised jokingly. But we definitely told (them) they (drivers) are not in the embassy, and truck drivers are never diplomats.

“Let us take it that it was a joke because an officer (who is) a retired brigadier… must be aware that these things (diplomatic immunity) are not available… to truck drivers.”

Kumar said the Pakistanis were asked to check their records and come up with a “more intelligent argument”.

“He (the diver) was travelling with contraband items, only the judiciary can take a view on it. We can’t,” Kumar said.

The officer said Pakistani authorities had detained 27 Indian truck drivers and seized the vehicles. The Pakistanis are also reportedly refusing to let in 48 truck drivers from PoK, arguing that the arrested driver should be returned too.

“We took 48 truckers (from PoK) to Kaman Post yesterday where they refused to take them in,” Kumar said.

The Jammu and Kashmir government has written to the Centre to take up the issue with Islamabad through diplomatic channels.

Pakistan today forced the suspension of the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, started for members of divided families who live on either side of the LoC.

Regional passport officer, Kashmir, Firdous Iqbal said no buses plied today. “Fifteen people were scheduled to cross over to the other side and seven from that side to here,” he said.