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Pak drops immunity demand for trucker

Srinagar, Jan. 30: India and Pakistan today achieved partial breakthrough in talks to revive stalled LoC trade and travel in Kashmir with an agreement to resume bus services and withdrawal of Islamabad’s alleged demand for “diplomatic immunity” to a trucker held for drug trafficking.

Two sticking points — resumption of cross-LoC trade and release of 27 Indian tuckers detained by Pakistanis — eluded a solution at the meeting, although both sides hoped these too would be resolved soon.

Travel and trade have been suspended since January 17 after the Pakistani trucker was arrested with narcotics worth over Rs 100 crore in Uri.

This was followed by detention of 27 Indian truckers in Pakistan. Another group of 48 Pakistani truckers are stuck on the Indian side as Islamabad has refused to take them back unless the arrested man is released too.

“The two sides agreed to resume Karvan-e-Aman (caravan of peace) bus from Monday,” said Khawaja Ghulam Ahmad, the district magistrate of Baramulla that covers Uri. Ahmad led the Indian side in the talks.

According to Indian officials, the Pakistani side gave up its demand of diplomatic immunity — an insistence that had baffled Indian officials as no such privilege is granted to truckers — for the arrested driver.

Khawaja said Pakistanis now wanted the driver to be released on bail at the earliest and sent back. “There is a change in their stand now. They now say that the law of the land should prevail, although earlier they said that the law of land does not apply to himů. (But now) it is up to the courts to grant him bail.”

Khawaja described as “very positive” the stance of the Pakistani officials in today’s talks, contrasting it with their earlier insistence on the immunity. “This time their approach was very positive...Both sides were of the opinion that trade and travel should resume and that the CBMs (confidence-building measures such as the bus service) should restart.”

The Pakistani team was led by a retired army officer, Brigadier Mohammad Ismael Khan. The talks, held at Uri’s Kaman post that overlooks the LoC, lasted over an hour.

According to Indian officials, it was Khan who had been earlier raising the demands for diplomatic immunity to the driver in a move that was viewed as a pressure tactic to get the Pakistani national released.

The issue had snowballed into a major controversy, with New Delhi summoning Pakistan’s acting high commissioner to convey its displeasure over the matter.

Today, Baramulla DM Khwaja said other issues like resumption of trade and release of Indian truckers were yet to be resolved but hoped it would happen soon. “We hope the issues would be resolved in the next round of talks.”