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Traders, passengers suffer as Kashmir 'border' closed

TRADERS, PASSENGERS SUFFER AS KASHMIR BORDER CLOSED

Trade and travel between the divided territories of Kashmir is at a standstill, harming traders and families on either side of the border, after weeks.

The main routes across the Line of Control (LoC) between Indian-controlled Jammu Kashmir and Pakistan's Azad Kashmir have been closed for weeks.

The Muzaffarabad-Uri road is entering its second week of closure due to a protest by drivers from Jammu Kashmir against the arrest of one of their number on drug smuggling charges.

The other main artery between Poonch and Rawalakot has been suspended since July 11 after an escalation in heavy firing and shelling.

Tanveer Ahmad, who oversees the trade on the Poonch-Rawalakot route, put the potential losses as high as $4 million.

"This is the longest the cross-LoC trade has been suspended along this route," he told Anadolu Agency.

"Trade has been held up by border skirmishes along the LoC and we hear shelling every now and then… I guess trade is going to remain suspended for some more time."

ROAD CLOSURES
The closure of the road between Poonch, a Jammu Kashmir town that lies near the de facto border, and Rawalakot, a town in the heart of Pakistan-run Kashmir, has also affected buses.

Nearly 120 Azad Kashmir residents who were visiting relatives on the other side of the LoC when the road was closed remain stranded weeks later.

Traders' leader Pawan Anand said businesses were waiting anxiously for the roads to reopen.

"We used to send 25 trucks every day to the Pakistani side of mostly food items like bananas, while they send dry fruits like pistachio for the same value as our items," he told Anadolu Agency.

"We are traders and we were trying to bring the two countries closer through trade but we are always dependent on the go ahead from the governments."

The other route between the territories has been shut since July 21, when Indian police found 66.5 kilograms (147 pounds) of heroin in a truck coming from the Pakistan side.

The driver, Mohammad Yousuf Shah, was arrested, leading to protests.

"These drivers have no security because they are being held responsible for a consignment that is going from some big man from Lahore to one in Delhi," trader Peer Arshid Iqbal said.

FALLING TRADE
"How does the driver know what has been loaded in one carton among the 1,000 cartons in his truck!"

Such concerns had seen the number of businessmen willing to trade across the LoC drop from around 650 in 2002 to 80 currently, he added.

Opening the LoC to trade and travel was hailed as the leading confidence-building measure between the two Kashmir zones when it was started in 2002.

However, is has been hostage to the political atmosphere between Islamabad and New Delhi, resulting in a difficult commercial environment.

Jammu Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, whose People's Democratic Party pushed for opening the frontier 15 years ago, has pledged to keep the trade going.

Muslim-majority Kashmir has been divided between Pakistan and India since partition. China also holds a small parcel of land.

Two of the three wars between India and Pakistan since 1947 have been fought over Kashmir, as well as the 1999 Kargil conflict between India and insurgents.

Many in Jammu Kashmir have called for independence or unification with Pakistan. More than 70,000 people have been reportedly killed since 1989.

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