Officials from both sides of the Line of Control (LoC) in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir on Friday agreed to resume trans-LoC travel and trade from Tetrinote-Chakan da Bagh crossing point from next week after a gap of almost four months.
The move is widely welcomed by traders and other civil society activists.
The travel and trade activities from Tetrinote were suspended on July 7, in the wake of heavy cross-LoC shelling in Poonch division that had caused several civilian casualties. Many passengers who had crossed the LoC from there were left stranded on both sides and were eventually repatriated from Chakothi-Uri crossing point in Muzaffarabad division on August 7.
According to the Pakistan Army’s media affairs wing, the Tetrinote terminal was also targeted by Indian troops in the second week of October, leaving the windowpanes of its visitors’ stand damaged. However, on October 25, dozens of civil society activists had staged a rally in tehsil headquarters Hajira to press the authorities to resume travel and trade from Tetrinote, located hardly 12 kilometres away from there.
According to official sources, it was the pressure from the civil society that compelled the AJK Travel and Trade Authority (TATA) officials to establish hotline contact with their counterparts in India-held Kashmir (IHK) to resolve the issue.
The meeting was initially planned for Thursday (Nov 2) but due to some technical glitch, it took place on Friday on the AJK side of the crossing point from 12noon to 1pm.
From AJK side, director TATA Shahid Ahmed, Trade Facilitation Officer (TFO) Tetrinote Sardar Mohammad Naeem and his assistant Mohammad Irshad attended the meeting while the IHK side was represented by Chakan da Bagh terminal custodian Mohammad Tanwir, TFO Paritpal Singh, DSP Security Tufail Mir and two other officers.
Sardar Kazeem and Ansaar Ahmed, office bearers of the intra-Kashmir traders union at Tetrinote, who had organised the Oct 25 rally in Hajira, were also invited at the sitting.
The meeting decided that cross-LoC travel from Tetrinote would take place on Monday (Nov 6), even though it’s a closed holiday in AJK on account of Jammu Martyrs Day.
“Since the activity is resuming after four months, our counterparts from across the LoC requested that it should be resumed on Monday and we agreed to it,” TATA director Ahmed told Dawn.
People from the southern districts of AJK, mainly Poonch, Mirpur, Kotli, Bhimber, who have their relatives in occupied Jammu, including occupied Poonch, prefer to travel across from Tetrinote, while those who have their relatives in Kashmir Valley choose Chakothi-Uri crossing point in Muzaffarabad.
Ahmed, however, clarified that crossing from Chakothi would not take place on November 6 due to the holiday.
Both sides also agreed that 60 trucks – 30 from each side — would ferry goods across the LoC daily from Tuesday to Friday, when the trade is held every week.
Ahmed said Indian officials also requested that the passengers from AJK be advised to bring Pakistani currency with them instead of the US dollars “because no bank on their side of Poonch was authorised to change foreign currency.”
The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between India and Pakistan on intra-Kashmir travel allows travellers to carry either US dollars or their respective currency up to a specified limit. However, Ahmed said, since the IHK officials had cited a reason for their request, passengers travelling via Tetrinote would be asked not to take dollars but Pakistani currency.
Travellers from the other side would follow the rules and bring Indian currency, he added.
Welcoming the decision, trader leader Kazeem said it had filled everyone — either associated with trade or intending to visit relatives across the LoC —with joy.
“Due to this suspension, more than Rs2 billion of our community had got stuck across the LoC. The closure of this point had also left the divided families, who wanted to travel across through this route, in limbo,” he said.
“But, today’s decision has made everyone happy and we are grateful to the authorities on both sides for it,” he added.