The temporary deadlock over cross-Line of Control trade between divided parts of Kashmir came to an end after officials of two sides on Thursday decided to resume it from next week.
An official said that Zero Point meeting was held between cross-LoC trade authorities in which it was decided that the trade stalled after a driver from Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) was arrested for allegedly carrying drugs, would be started next week.
Several other decisions were taken to streamline the trade and prevent such incidents, he said.
During the meeting, deputy commissioner Baramulla Nasir Ahmad Naqash stressed upon DG Travel and Trade Authority of PaK Shahid Ahmad to carry out the trade process in a transparent manner and ensure stringent checks on the traded items, the official added.
He said that scrutiny of trade-associated vehicles should be strengthened so that all the hurdles confronting it are eliminated.
Meanwhile, senior superintendent of police Baramulla Mir Imtiyaz Hussain presented the details of the recently-occurred incident on which the DG Travel and Trade Authority of PaK assured him that the trade process in future would be carried out transparently.
The PaK delegation was also briefed about the investigation being carried out by police in case filed vide FIR No 54 /17 of P/S Uri in which 66.5 Kgs of narcotics were seized. They assured that they would improve the mechanism of checking/scanning at Trade Centre Chakhoti so that such incidents are prevented in future.
The officials from PaK also agreed that 116 PaK citizens stranded on this side would be allowed to return via Kaman Post through Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service.
It was also decided that ISD facility would be provided between custodians of Salamabad and Chakothi so that all issues are resolved without any delay. The meeting was informed that Zero Point meet shall be convened on monthly basis through which all minor issues shall be sorted out.
Meanwhile, the officials also discussed that traders' meeting would be organized on quarterly basis which would help in streamlining the trade process. However more focus was given on transparency in trade so that quantum of trade increases gradually.
The important breakthrough, according to an official, was that it was decided that every month a meeting between the officials of both sides would be held on either sides of divided Kashmir to review the functioning of cross LoC trade and travel. It will be for the first time since the trade between two sides started that monthly meetings would be held on the territories of divided Kashmir which otherwise used to be held on zero point at Kaman post.
"It is an important development for the smooth conduct of cross LoC business and travel" D Sagar, sub divisional magistrate (SDM) Uri told Greater Kashmir.
A source said the PaK officials demanded the release of driver of the confiscated truck from which contrabands were seized last month. The demand was turned down by the officials from this side. "We have conveyed to guest participants that the release of arrested driver could be decided only after following legal procedure," the SDM Uri said.
"Following the request from the PaK officials that the number of trucks plying between Srinagar and Muzzafarabad should be reduced at least for one month, it was decided that around 25 trucks as compared to 40 would be part of the trade for the coming month," an official said.
The PaK officials, a source said, suggested that empty trucks from Kashmir should be sent to Pakistan administered Kashmir so that these can get loaded and return but officials from this side rejected the suggestion and insisted that both the sides should follow the standard operation procedure.
Tariq Naqash adds from Muzzafrabad
Trade Facilitation Officer (TFO) Chakothi Major (retired) Tahir Kazmi told Greater Kashmir that JK officials handed over a copy of the FIR registered about the alleged drug recovery, "but failed to address our concerns and objections."
"When we raised objections that why the truck from which they alleged to have recovered heroin was scanned in the absence of its driver in sheer violation of the mutually agreed SOP, they had no answer," he claimed.
However, notwithstanding the agreement between the two sides, the traders in PaK appeared reluctant to resume trade until the authorities took stock of their reservations about scanning process.
"The first and foremost thing our government and TATA need to do is to install a modern vehicle scanner in TFC Chakothi so as to find a lasting solution to allegations of drug trafficking through this activity," said Ajaz Ahmed Meer, a former office bearer of cross-LoC traders' body.
"Unless this is done, hardly anyone will risk his freedom and investment," he said, in a reference to the arrest of drivers and retention of trucks across the LoC amid drug trafficking allegations.
It is not the first time the intra Kashmir trade, which was launched in October 2008 as a confidence building measure (CBM) between India and Pakistan, has been mired in allegations of drug trafficking.
Previously, at least twice India had alleged that the trucks from PaK had brought contraband items. Those two trucks and their drivers are still held up across the LoC.