The Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service remained suspended for the second week in a row even as dialogue was initiated between India and Pakistan, after the neighbouring country closed the border for trade and travel following a major drug haul from a Pakistani truck at Salamabad on the Indian side.
Indian authorities on January 17 had seized brown sugar worth Rs 100 crore from a truck coming from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), resulting in a stand-off putting the trade and travel between two parts of the state on hold. The consignment was hidden in a truck carrying almonds for a trader in North Kashmir.
The PoK authorities have detained 27 trucks and drivers at Chakothi across the Line of Control (LoC) following the recovery of the drugs. While one driver has been arrested, 48 others from PoK are stranded at the Salamabad trade facilitation centre on the Indian side since the stand-off began.
Pakistan has been asking for immunity for the driver besides return of the truck and the seized narcotics.
"They again said the driver was innocent and should be released. They asked for our investigation details, case FIR and also the FSL report. We told them we have to ask legal experts if the information can be shared," said Kashmir divisional commissioner Shailendra Kumar.
"On the return of drivers, they insisted that all 49 have to return together. Until then, the 27 Indian drivers would remain in PoK," he added.
The deadlock, which is into its second week, seems escalating even as the Jammu and Kashmir government has sought intervention of the Centre to resolve the issue.
"There was no cross-LOC bus today, as Pakistan has stopped travel across the LoC," said Ghulam Mohammad Khawaja, district commissioner, Baramulla. The Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus is a weekly service which crosses over from Srinagar to PoK every Monday.
According to authorities in Srinagar, 53 Kashmiris, who had travelled to PoK are stranded there, while 12 PoK residents are waiting to cross over from the Indian side.
"Twelve PoK residents are ready for crossing over to the other side, while 53 of our own people are waiting to return," said Firdous Iqbal, passport officer, Kashmir.
"The Pakistani side today offered a dialogue. Our officials, headed by director industries, Javed Khan, along with custodian of Salamabad trade facilitation centre, Showkat Ahmad, have gone to Salamabad to lead the talk with DG (trade) and Muzaffarabad divisional commissione. Let's see what comes out of it," said Khawaja.