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Kashmir trade stalls as India, Pakistan fight over drugs bust

January 22, 2014 16:53 IST

Kashmir trade stalls as India, Pakistan fight over drugs bust

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Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar

Efforts by India and Pakistan to increase trade and ease tension in disputed Kashmir have suffered a blow with police saying they had seized more than 100 kg of heroin concealed in a truck full of nuts coming from the Pakistan side.

Pakistan halted cross-border trade and bus travel across the Himalayan region after the seizure last week, and on Tuesday New Delhi summoned Pakistan's acting envoy in protest.

The two nuclear-armed countries have fought two wars over Kashmir but had sought to ease access and commerce in a region at the heart of more than 60 years of hostility.

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Image: This file photograph shows Pakistani rangers standing near the Indian (R) and Pakistani national flags during an annual fair near Pakistan border in Chamliyal, 45 km (28 miles) west of Jammu.
Photographs: Amit Gupta/Files/Reuters

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The spat, which comes after the two sides agreed on Saturday to allow round-the-clock movement of trucks and containers through their main border crossing further south in Punjab, underlines the fragility of the peace process.

"It is indeed surprising that Pakistan chose to hold hostage trans-LoC trade and travel bringing immense humanitarian benefits to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, for the sake of persons indulging in drug trafficking," Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said, referring to the Line of Control dividing Kashmir.

Both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif, who took power last year, are keen to rebuild ties and diplomats say closer integration of Pakistan with India's giant economy could lay the ground for improving political relations.

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Image: This file photograph shows Pakistan Rangers (R) and Border Security Force personnel taking part in the daily flag lowering ceremony at their joint border post of Wagah near Lahore.
Photographs: Mohsin Raza/Files/Reuters

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The latest row erupted on Friday when police impounded a truck coming from Chakoti on the Pakistan side of Kashmir and arrested its driver saying they had found 114 packets of heroin concealed in a cargo of almonds.

Deputy Police Inspector General JP Singh said the seizure was the largest contraband haul since cross-border trade began across the heavily militarised Line of Control in 2008, and estimated that it could be worth 1 billion rupees on the international market.

He said the almonds were meant for a businessman in Bandipora on the Indian side of Kashmir and that police were carrying out raids to hunt drug smugglers.

"We have followed the procedures.

"We have seized contraband, we have registered a case and when you register a case you have to arrest the driver who was carrying it, according to our laws," Singh said, adding it was wrong for Pakistan to stop all movement across Kashmir.

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Image: This file photograph shows members of India and Pakistan delegations lighting candles to celebrate Indian and Pakistani Independence Day in Wagha.
Photographs: Munish Sharma/Reuters

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But Pakistan said India often caused problems on the Kashmir border with unsubstantiated allegations.

"It's not for the first time they have resorted to such a practice.

“Previously on at least five occasions, they levelled baseless allegations, from recovery of weapons to cocaine to counterfeit currency from our trucks," said retired brigadier Muhammad Ismail, the head of Azad Kashmir Travel and Trade Authority.

He said no evidence had ever been presented.

A group of 26 people, most of them from the Pakistani side of Kashmir, are now stranded because their bus was turned back at the crossing.

Trucks that carry goods across the two parts of Kashmir are also stuck.

(Additional reporting by Abu Arqam Narqash in MUZAFFARABAD; Manoj Kumar in NEW DELHI, Writing by Sanjeev Miglani)

 


Image: An Indian border security soldier (R) and Pakistani rangers (L) perform during a parade during a retreat ceremony at the Indo-Pak Joint check post in Wagha.
Photographs: Munish Sharma SD/CN/Reuters

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