Wednesday, Sep 24, 2014

Waiting 25 days, 45 km from home

Shah (in green sweater) with other Pakistani truckers and their vehicles at the Salamabad Trade Centre near the Line of Control. SHUAIB MASOODI Shah (in green sweater) with other Pakistani truckers and their vehicles at the Salamabad Trade Centre near the Line of Control. SHUAIB MASOODI
Written by Mir Ehsan | Posted: February 16, 2014 12:30 am | Updated: February 15, 2014 11:30 pm

Indian films, evening matches and local warmth kept the 48 Pakistani truck drivers stranded this side of LoC going, till trade resumed last week.

Cricket and Bollywood were the two comforts that kept the 48 Pakistani truck drivers stranded on this side of the Line of Control at Uri for nearly a month going. However, as 34-year-old Tahir Hussain Shah, of Chani Bandi Sayedian village in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, some 45 km from the LoC, said, waiting endlessly in the cold, away from families, with little news on when the Uri-Muzaffarabad route would open again, made both a little less sweet.

Shah, who speaks both Pahari and Punjabi fluently, was the designated leader of the truckers. If on the one hand he held talks with officials, trying to convince them to release a Pakistani driver at the centre of the dispute that led to the shutdown, on the other, he tried to keep up the morale of the others.

“I have been driving the Bedford load carrier in Pakistan for over a decade. This was the first time I spent more than three weeks in Indian Kashmir,’’ said Shah, who began coming to Kashmir soon after the Uri-Muzaffarabad trade route opened in October 2008. At 5 pm, on February 12, after 25 days of wait, he eventually started the ride back home, expecting to be there in two hours.

Trade on the LoC had been suspended on January 15 after India arrested the driver of a truck coming from PoK that was found carrying 114 kg of brown sugar in bags of almonds. While India allowed other truck drivers that had come with him to return, Pakistan refused to take them back. It also held back 27 drivers who had gone from Kashmir to PoK with goods, demanding that the Pakistani driver who had been arrested be released. When India refused, trade was halted, stranding Shah and the others on this side and dealing a blow to what is considered one of the biggest confidence building measures between India and Pakistan.

While India allows 23 items to be exported as part of the cross-LoC trade, Pakistan lists 26. In the past five years, goods worth Rs 2,000 crore are estimated to have been traded at the Kaman and Chakanda Bagh (Poonch) crossings. Though 500 traders are registered for the trade, currently only a handful are in business as trade is run on barter. Nearly 150-200 trucks cross the border four days a week.

After trade came to a sudden halt, till they left on February 12, the 48 Pakistani truckers were confined to the premises of the Salamabad Trade Centre, 15 km from the Kaman Post. “Though we were not continued…

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