MUZAFFARABAD: Intra-Kashmir trade through Chakothi-Uri crossing point has been suspended for at least two weeks for repair of a bridge over a water channel that serves as the Line of Control (LoC) in parts of Chakothi sector.
Damage to the bridge on the India-held side was spotted on Wednesday (March 6), but trade continued on that day as well as on Thursday.
However, on Friday, around 35 trucks from Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) waited at their side of the divide for about four hours, but authorities in India-held Kashmir (IHK) did not allow the crossing, ostensibly because engineers were inspecting the bridge.
On Saturday, the Trade Facilitation Officer in Chakothi was informed in black and white by his counterpart — Custodian of Trade Facilitation Centre in Salamabad (Uri) — about the inevitability of suspension of trade.
Kaman bridge requires immediate repair to prevent further deterioration
“It is intimated that due to [the] sustained use of Kaman bridge for cross-LoC trade for a long period, the bridge has suffered some damages which require immediate repair to prevent further deterioration,” the custodian wrote.
According to him, inspection of bridge was carried out by civil and military engineers on Friday, which indicated that the bridge needed urgent repair and maintenance to ensure its longevity.
He said that since the repair would require minimum 10 to 15 days, trade should be suspended accordingly.
Suspension of trade has caused anxiety among the traders as they feared that some of the goods, such as fresh fruit and veggies, already loaded on trucks for transportation across the LoC might rot, thus causing them huge financial losses.
Trade between the divided parts of Kashmir is held four days a week — from Tuesday to Friday — while travel takes place once a week on Monday from two crossing points — Chakothi-Uri in Muzaffarabad division and Tetrinote-Chakan da Bagh in Poonch division.
While the travellers cross the LoC on foot, trucks unload their stuff at the designated spots on the opposite sides. Under the standard operating procedure, these trucks are required to return to their respective side by the same evening.
After the Pulwama attack on Feb 14, trans-LoC travel was suspended from Chakothi-Uri point on Feb 18, but trade was held on next four days.
On Feb 25, travel took place at Chakothi-Uri while trade was held on Feb 26, but had to be suspended from Feb 27 to March 1 due to tensions at the LoC.
On March 4, travel was again suspended at both points due to a religious holiday across the divide.
From March 5 to 7, trade was held from Chakothi-Uri point.
At Tetrinote, both trade and travel remained suspended from Feb 18 to 21, but afterwards there had not been any disruption in both activities from there, except for suspension of travel on March 4 due to the religious festival in IHK.
Ironically, when this correspondent contacted retired colonel Shahid Ahmed, a senior official at the AJK Trade and Travel Authority, on phone to know about the fate of trans-LoC travel from Chakothi-Uri on next Monday, he said he was spending time with his family in Kharian and hung up.
Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2019