For almost two years now, the Union Home Ministry has been arguing to shut down the cross-Line of Control (LoC) trade between two parts of Kashmir after a series of intelligence reports prepared by officials indicated that the cover of trade may be used by Pakistan for militancy and Hawala operations.
The argument holds that the barter trade has become not just a source of funding militancy but destabilising the Valley too, thus turning into another headache for security agencies who are already overburdened with the changing contours of militancy on ground in the Valley.
“We have been building a case to shut it down,” a Home Ministry official recently told Firstpost. “There is lack of political will which could be the reason why the cross-LoC bus was allowed to ply a day after an army base was attacked by militants in Uri,” he added.
On Friday, the fears turned true again when the Jammu and Kashmir Police seized over 25 kg of heroine in the border town of Uri from a truck coming from Pakistan, in Salamabad. This is the sixth time since trade began on 21 October, 2008, that the police has seized contraband in such a large quantity.
SHO Uri Tabraiz Ahmad told Firstpost that the consignment of textiles was addressed to a trader based in Pampore area on the outskirts of Srinagar. Although investigation is on, the police is trying to ascertain if the consignment might have been meant for fomenting trouble in the Valley.
“The banned substance was hidden under a consignment of textiles that arrived in a truck from Pakistan-administered Kashmir at the Salamabad trade facilitation centre,” Ahmad said.
The truck bearing registration number X-8267, was going through routine checking when the drugs were found hidden in false cavities specifically fabricated for this purpose, in boxes purportedly shown to contain mercantile goods. The truck driver identified as Syed Yousuf, son of Ali Akbar, has been taken into custody.
A statement issued by Kashmir police said the police seized narcotic drugs from a truck coming from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) to this side as part of cross-LoC trade at Trade Centre Salamabad, Uri in Baramulla.
“A police team during checking at Trade Centre Salamabad, Uri in Baramulla recovered 66.5 kilograms of narcotic drugs which appear to be heroine,” the statement said.
The cross-LoC trade was started between India and Pakistan by the Manmohan Singh government as one of the major confidence-building measures between the two countries. The trade between India and Pakistan of over two dozen listed items operates for four days in a week through Uri in Baramulla district of Kashmir Valley and Chakan-Da-Bagh in Poonch district of Jammu.
Trade had been on since 2008. But suspensions have been common whenever there has been an escalation of tensions between the two countries.
In August 2013, the police recovered cocaine consignment worth Rs 10 crore from a truck coming from across the LoC. The consignment was meant for a Hizbul Mujahideen operative who was later arrested by Kashmir police.
In January 2015, the detention of a Pakistani driver who carried a consignment of narcotic brown sugar estimated to be worth Rs 100 crore for a trader in Bandipora, was at the centre of a diplomatic spat that resulted between the governments of India and Pakistan, indefinitely suspending trade across the LoC.
The state police had arrested the driver and seized the truck. They found 144 packets of brown sugar that had been hidden inside gunny bags along with almonds. The truck was being driven by a Pakistani national, identified as Mohammad Shafi from Sarwar, Muzaffarbad, who is still under custody in Kashmir.
Pakistani authorities retaliated by detaining 27 Indian trucks carrying goods from India to demand the release of the truck and driver, who was being questioned by the Jammu and Kashmir Police at that time.
The money, police officials say, which is being generated from narcotics, is mostly used to fund militancy-related activities in the state. Just three days ago, the NIA had claimed it has got crucial leads from trade-related documents seized by the agency in Srinagar after carrying out raids in different parts of the Valley.
There is purportedly a case of over and under invoicing in which almonds are brought in for Rs 600-650 per kg as against Rs 250-300 per kg. A day after NIA’s disclosure, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti visited Uri and expressed hope that the ambit of cross-LoC trade and travel activities would be further expanded so that there is more exchange of people and goods.
“It is a fact that borders cannot be redrawn, but they can certainly be made irrelevant with frequent exchange of people, students, artists and other groups of people,” she said.
Advocating opening of more traditional routes along the LoC, Mehbooba said cross-LoC travel and trade was not coined and piloted as an isolated facility but to bring the people on the two sides of the divide closer and open a new chapter of friendship and working together.
But with the latest recovery of contraband, the idea of bringing together two divided parts of Kashmir will again come under scrutinty. It should not, however, prevent the political leadership in the two countries from moving ahead in applying balm to the festering wound of Kashmir.
Updated Date: Jul 22, 2017 13:38:13 IST