[dropcap]A[/dropcap]S many as 40 passengers from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) who were stranded in border district Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir for almost two weeks returned home after the Poonch-Rawalakot cross-LoC bus service resumed on Monday.
“The bus service resumed with 40 PoK residents and six Indian citizens returning to their homes,” District Development Commissioner Poonch, Rahul Yadav told media persons in Poonch. “The permits of two other PoK residents, who had arrived in Jammu and Kashmir’s Poonch a week ahead of Eid-ul-Azha to meet their relatives, were yet to expire.”
While there was no fresh traveller from either side, uncertainty looms large over the future of bus service that was suspended on August 19. The relations between India and Pakistan are under strain following Centre’s move to scrap special status to Jammu and Kashmir and its bifurcation into two Union territories – Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh – early this month.
After the change in the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir, there are apprehensions that the procedures for the cross-LoC would also undergo a change. The bus service, popularly known as ‘Paigam-e-Aman’, runs on every Monday is billed as the biggest confidence-building measure between the two countries. It was started on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad route in Kashmir on April 2005 and the Poonch-Rawalakot route in the Jammu region in June 2006, to facilitate divided families on either side of the LoC to meet each other.
A local resident, Mohammed Shakil, who had come to see off his Pakistani guest at the local sports stadium from where the buses leave for the LoC, told reporters that, “Our guests enjoyed their stay and celebrated Eid with us. But the border skirmishes soured their tour at its last leg. There must be peace on borders and good relation between both the countries.”
He requested the Prime Ministers of both nations to initiate dialogue for resolving all the longstanding bilateral issues. “With dialogue, all issues would be sorted out and the situation between both nations will be eased,” he said.
Cross LoC trade remains suspended
The trade, which works on the barter system, between the two parts of the state started in October 2008. However, India announced a suspension of the trade at two points: Salamabad of Baramulla in Kashmir and Chakkan-da-Bagh of Poonch in Jammu in April, following reports that it was being “misused” by elements from across the border to smuggle weapons, narcotics and fake currency.