Centre to take final call on resumption of travel, trade

Sanjeev Pargal
JAMMU, Oct 11: As cross-LoC bus and trade remained suspended on Poonch-Rawlakote route for more than three months, the Centre has decided to take final call on any resumption process only after complete normalcy is restored on the Line of Control (LoC) and has reportedly asked local authorities not to “make first attempt’’ of opening communication channels with Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) administration.
Sources told the Excelsior that the Centre has viewed very seriously the reports that Pakistan army tried to directly target Chakan-Da-Bagh Trade Facilitation Centre and areas in its vicinity with mortar shells and heavy arms firing during ongoing tensions on the LoC in twin border districts of Poonch and Rajouri.
“This act of Pakistan army could have cost lives of cross-LoC visitors as well as truckers engaged in transporting goods across the LoC,’’ sources said, adding that recently also Pakistan fired few mortars in the civilian areas falling close to Chakan-Da-Bagh.
Generally, the Army authorities in Poonch speak to their counterparts in PoK on hotline followed by talks between Trade Facilitation Officers of the two sides on cross-LoC bus and trade related issues. However, for the past quite some time, there have been no talks between the two sides.
Apart from mortar shelling and firing, sources said, the Centre was also concerned about the report given by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on “grave misuse’’ of cross-LoC trade for terror funding and hawala operations on both routes of Poonch-Rawlakote and Uri-Muzaffarabad. The NIA has recommended to the Home Ministry for closure of the trade.
“In view of the adverse reports, there seems to be no early resumption of cross-LoC bus and trade on Poonch-Rawlakote route. Moreover, there has been no end to tensions on the LoC as Pakistan army continued to violate ceasefire quite frequently in various areas of Poonch and Rajouri districts, spread the tensions further,’’ sources said.
They added that it would be the Ministry of Home Affairs, which would take all pros and cons into account, before taking a decision on resumption of cross-LoC trade and travel on Poonch-Rawlakote route as the Government didn’t want to take any chance in view of frequent spells of ceasefire violations by Pakistan.
Last months, there had been Sector Commander level talks between Indo-Pak troops at Chakan-Da-Bagh. However, even after the meeting, Pakistan army continued to indulge in ceasefire violations especially targeting civilian areas in both Poonch and Rajouri districts, prompting authorities to refrain from talking the resumption of cross-LoC trade and travel.
Cross-LoC trade and travel was suspended on Poonch-Rawlakote route on July 10 in the wake of intense mortar shelling and firing from Pakistan side especially the targeting of Chakan-Da-Bagh Trade Facilitation Centre, from where bus and trucks cross over to Rawlakote in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) from Poonch.
Since then, trade and travel on Poonch-Rawlakote route remained suspended. However, trade and travel on another cross-LoC route of Uri-Muzaffarabad, which falls in Kashmir, continued uninterrupted.
Cross-LoC bus used to operate between Poonch and Rawlakote every Monday followed by four days of trade from Tuesday to Friday.
The National Investigation Agency has already registered a case of terror funding and hawala operations involving cross-LoC trade and has already raided and quizzed some of the businessmen, who were dealing in the trade.
There had been reports that some traders had grossly misused barter system of cross-LoC trade on both Poonch-Rawlakote and Uri-Muzaffarabad routes. A part of the amount earned illegally by the traders of this side under the garb of barter system, had gone to militants and separatists for funding terrorism and unrest in the Kashmir valley.