The weekly cross-LoC bus service plied Monday as per schedule along the Poonch-Rawalakot route in Jammu and Kashmir, days after India indefinitely suspended trade at two points along the Line of Control in the state after reports of “misuse” of the business by some elements from across the border.
A total of 28 passengers, all residents of Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK), availed the facility by crossing sides at Chakan-da-Bagh along the LoC in Poonch district, officials said.
While 23 PaK residents reached Poonch from across the border, five PaK residents returned home after spending time with their relatives, they said, adding neither any Indian resident returned from PaK nor anyone went there to meet their relatives, apparently in view of the prevailing situation.
The weekly bus service, popularly known as ‘Paigam-e-Aman’ (message of peace) plies every Monday.
The bus does not cross the LoC and the passengers exchange sides by foot at the Chakan-da-Bagh crossing point and later board the bus to reach their respective destinations.
Billed as the biggest confidence building measure, the bus service was started on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad route in Kashmir in April 2005 and on the Poonch-Rawalakot route in the Jammu region on June 20, 2006, to facilitate travel between the divided families on either side of the LoC.
The cross-LoC trade, which works on barter system, started in October 2008. However, the trade, which takes place four days a week from Tuesday, was indefinitely suspended by India last week.
Hardening its stand against Pakistan, India had on Thursday last announced the suspension of the trade at two points – Salamabad of Baramulla in Kashmir and Chakkan-da-Bagh of Poonch in Jammu, following reports that it was being “misused” by elements from across the border to smuggle weapons, narcotics and fake currency.
However, the government said the issue of reopening of the LoC trade would be revisited after a stricter regulatory and enforcement mechanism is worked out and put in place in consultation with various agencies.
The bus service and trade between the divided parts survived border skirmishes between the armies of India and Pakistan, which intensified recently following India’s air strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammad camp in Balakot on February 26 in response to the February 14 Pulwama attack on a convoy which left 40 CRPF personnel dead.
“We want both the governments to continue with the bus service to facilitate the divided families to meet each other,” Jaskal Hussain, a resident of Mirpur in PaK, told reporters before boarding the bus after spending six weeks with his relatives in Poonch.
He said he was happy with the service and faced no problem during his stay with his relatives in Jammu and Kashmir.
Mohammad Ibrahim, another PaK resident, said the facility has provided them an opportunity to visit each other and share happiness and grief.
“Our message to both the countries is to continue such measures so that the people on both sides of the divided line live in peace,” he said.