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‘Please’ and ‘OK’ avert row

Srinagar, May 23: A fresh confrontation has been averted on the Line of Control in north Kashmir after the Pakistani army objected to the construction of a border road a few days ago.

State government officials said the issue had been amicably resolved and work had resumed, while the Indian Army said the work was never stopped.

An official said the road is meant to link the three border villages of Silikot, Balkote and Hathlanga in the Uri area.

The Pakistani army had argued that any construction within 500 metres of the LoC violated a memorandum of understanding between the two sides.

“The Pakistani army raised red flags and made announcements from loudspeakers asking the workers to stop. The workers felt insecure and stopped the work,” the official said.

A slightly different version came from the Indian Army. “Our side was constructing a development road. They raised a red flag and asked a query, which is an indication of ‘Please talk to us’,” defence spokesman N.N. Joshi said.

“We spoke on the hotline and explained to them that it was a development road. They said, ‘OK, fine’. The work was never stopped.”

State rural development minister Ali Mohammad Sagar said the work had stopped “for a few days” but added that the reason may possibly have been a funds shortage rather than Pakistan’s objections.

He said the road, started two years ago and nearing completion, was being built under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. “It’s a 12km road, of which some 10.5km has been built,” Sagar said.

The incident comes amid rising border tensions after a soldier was killed and several injured at Akhnoor on Sunday by suspected members of the Border Action Team of Pakistan, made up of militants and Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan has also violated the ceasefire several times in the past few days.

There have recently been a few signs of bonhomie as well. Two Pakistani shepherds who had inadvertently crossed the LoC in the Keri sector of Poonch were returned to Pakistan at the Chankan da Bagh border crossing on Tuesday after Indian officials ascertained their identity.

Defence spokesperson Joshi said it was done on “humanitarian grounds” and as a “goodwill gesture”.

India and Pakistan also allowed a meeting between traders from the two parts of Kashmir at Chankan da Bagh on Tuesday so that they could settle their trade disputes.

Such meetings are supposed to be held every three months but had not been organised for over a year following the beheading of an Indian soldier by suspected Pakistani troops during a cross-border raid in Poonch last year. Senior officials from both sides were present at Tuesday’s meeting.