53 civilians stranded, 35 over staying

Bus, trade remain suspended

Excelsior Correspondent
JAMMU, June 25: Just two days after the Brigade Commander level flag meeting, Pakistan today once again refused to open gates at Chakan-Da-Bagh leading to suspension of cross-LoC bus service on Poonch-Rawlakote route for second consecutive week as a threat loomed large over the trade also.
Suspension of bus by the Pakistan authorities has created an unprecedented situation with 57 PoK citizens stranded in this part of divided State, 23 of them overstaying with their permits having expired. The civilians were unable to return in the absence of bus service, the only link between two parts of the divided State.
Similarly, about 30 civilians from this side were stranded in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) with dozen of them overstaying as their permits too had expired, official sources said.
The stranded civilians of PoK did turn up at Poonch this morning anticipating that Pakistan authorities and PoK administration would allow movement of weekly bus service, which was suspended last Monday after heavy firing between Indo-Pak troops at Krishna Ghati sector in Poonch district. However, the hope started fading by 11 am and all the civilians returned to the houses of their divided family members and relatives in Poonch and Rajouri districts, where they had come on 28 days permit from Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).
The State Government has, meanwhile, submitted a detailed report to the Union Government about Pakistan’s refusal to open gates at Chakan-Da-Bagh cross-LoC point on Poonch-Rawlakote route leading to suspension of weekly bus service that plied between two parts of divided State (J&K and PoK) every Monday for second consecutive week and trade on the same route for third week.
The Pakistan Government has targeted the biggest Confidence Building Measure (CBM) on movement of civilians between two sides and cross-LoC trade for the first time since they were started (the bus in the year 2006 and the trade in the year 2008).
Sources confirmed that at least 57 citizens of PoK were stranded on this side for past two weeks with 23 of them overstaying as their permits have expired. Of 23 overstaying civilians, 13 had to return in last Monday’s bus and 10 today. However, the bus was not allowed to move by Pakistan authorities as they refused to open gates at Chakan-Da-Bagh.
About 30 civilians from this side were also stranded in different parts of PoK where they had gone to meet their divided family members and relatives. Nearly dozen of them were overstaying with expired permits.
As per an agreement between the two sides, a civilian was given 14 days permit initially for the visit, which was subsequently extended by another 14 days. Beyond that, the permit is not extended and the civilians were considered as overstaying.
However, according to sources, since an extraordinary situation has been created by Pakistan there was no way out to push overstaying civilians into their territory. They have been asked to keep on staying with their divided families and relatives till a solution was found to the crisis.
Sources said if the crisis was not resolved at local level in the next few days, the External Affairs Ministry might take up the issue with their counterparts in Pakistan to facilitate return of overstaying civilians on both sides.
The Foreign Secretary level talks between India and Pakistan were scheduled in next few days. India has already decided to take up the issue of heavy and unprovoked firing by Pakistan Army in Krishna Ghati sector of Poonch district recently in the talks.
Meanwhile, cross-LoC trade, which takes place on Poonch-Rawlakote route every week from Tuesday to Friday, will not take place this week, Custodian, Trade Facilitation Centre, Poonch, Hamid Sheikh said.
He added that there had been no indications from PoK authorities on resumption of trade, which remained suspended for third week now.
Cross-LoC Traders Association, president, Pawan Anand said, there were no prospectus of resumption of trade this week. “We are keeping our fingers crossed. The traders on other side of the PoK were not responding to telephone calls or other modes of communication like emails. They seemed to be under pressure of Pakistan Army’’, Mr Anand said.
Trade on Poonch-Rawlakote route was suspended on June 14 after three days of heavy firing in Krishna Ghati sector with Pakistan refusing to open gates at Poonch-Rawlakote route at Chakan-Da-Bagh. Since then, the trade remained suspended on Poonch-Rawlakote route while it was taking place on Uri-Muzaffarabad route of Kashmir.
It may be mentioned that after nearly 10 days of firing, Brigade Commander level flag meeting was held on June 23 at Chakan-Da-Bagh in which Indian side had lodged a strong protest over Pakistan’s unprovoked firing in which one Army soldier was killed and five others were injured. However, both sides had committed themselves to ceasefire agreement of Indo-Pak Governments taken in November 2002.
There had been no firing on the LoC after the flag meeting in twin border districts of Poonch and Rajouri.