MUZAFFARABAD: India halted a key bus service with Azad Jammu and Kashmir, cutting the only land route linking the divided Himalayan region, Pakistani and Indian officials said on Wednesday.
According to Pakistani official Shahid Mehmood, Indian authorities suspended the bus service this week without explanation.
The development comes amid escalated tensions between the two countries in the wake of last week’s deadly suicide bombing in India-held Kashmir against paramilitary troops. Over 40 Indian soldiers were killed in Thursday’s attack, which New Delhi blamed on Islamabad.
Pakistan condemned the attack and cautioned India against linking it to the bombing without an investigation.
An Indian official confirmed the bus service was halted on Monday. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to reporters.
The bus service between Muzaffarabad and Srinagar was suspended so suddenly that travellers only learned about it when they went to the terminal. Private cars, motorcycles and other forms of transportation have long been banned.
The bus line, launched in 2005, served to reunite families on separate sides of the heavily militarised Line of Control.
“I came to Muzaffarabad from Rawalpindi to welcome my cousin but was told that no bus will come from Srinagar,” said 43-year-old Zareena Bibi.
Shehzada Akhtar, a 56-year-old woman from the Shopian area in India-held Kashmir, said she was prevented from travelling on Monday following a death in her family on the other side of the line.
“I could not go to see my ailing uncle in 2016 when there was some tension between India and Pakistan,” Akhtar explained. “Now when my uncle has passed away, I am again unable to share grief with my beloved cousins.”
Angered over the suspension of bus service, dozens of people rallied in Muzaffarabad on Wednesday.
Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2019