Intra Kashmir trade from Chakothi-Uri crossing point did not take place on Tuesday due to the boycott of the activity by traders in protest against alleged hostile treatment by Pakistan Customs and nonchalant attitude of the 'rulers' in Muzaffarabad and Islamabad towards their plight.
They made it clear that the trade from this point would remain suspended until the settlement of the issues being faced by them.
For a long time, traders have been complaining that they are facing raids and confiscations of their trucks and mercantile goods at the hands of Pakistan Customs after they enter the territory of Pakistan from Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK), notwithstanding the fact that it's zero tariff trade on barter basis.
"As soon as our trucks cross Kohala Bridge they have to give sweeteners to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police first. Next are the Punjab police personnel waiting for the trucks who also want their palms to be greased," alleged Ajaz Ahmed Meer, a representative of intra Kashmir traders, while talking to Greater Kashmir here.
"As these two extortionists are not enough, the trucks are then ambushed by the officials of Pakistan Customs because they maintain that the goods brought under intra-Kashmir trade can be sold in the PaK territory alone and nowhere in Pakistan," he added.
On November 30, Meer recalled, the traders moved their vehicles in a caravan to escape "extortions" but when they reached Faizabad (Rawalpindi) they were intercepted by Pakistan Customs who wanted to confiscate trucks, and in the ensuing clash between the two sides 2 officials and 3 traders were injured.
Following the incident, an FIR was registered by Sadiqabad police against 7 nominated and 39 unidentified traders on the application of Pakistan Customs, he said. On December 13, the Sadiqabad police intercepted a similar convoy at IJT Road and arrested 3 traders and 2 truckers from among the unidentified accused persons.
Apart from that, they also confiscated and handed over a banana-laden truck to the Customs officials who auctioned the commodity later, Meer said.
According to him, over the past four or so weeks alone, the Customs authorities had confiscated and auctioned goods loaded on 12 trucks, causing loss of millions of rupees to the poor traders.
Meer maintained that the treatment being meted out to them by Punjab police and Customs officials appeared to be aimed at shutting down the trade, initiated in October 2008 as the second important Kashmir specific 'confidence building measure' between Pakistan and India after cross-LoC travel.
"If the federal government wants to collect any kind of duty from the goods brought under intra-Kashmir trade it should officially notify the same and set up check-posts at Kohala and Azad Pattan for the purpose," he said, referring to the villages at PaK's border with Pakistan in Muzaffarabad and Poonch divisions, respectively.
"Or else we will be justified in dubbing the ongoing practice as extortion aimed at keeping the traders away from this activity," he added.
Meer said PaK Trade and Travel Authority (Tata) and the PaK chief secretary had also taken up this case with the Customs officials, but to no avail.
He pointed out that Chakothi-Uri crossing point fell in the constituency of PaK Prime Minister Raja Farooq Haider and even though the activity was providing livelihood to as many as 2000 people in his area, he was "least moved about their plight."
"Ironically, the (PaK) premier does not have time or interest to get this crucial issue addressed. In fact the entire government in Muzaffarabad is staying aloof from cross LoC travel and trade related problems," he said.