Killing time: Stranded truck drivers from Pakistan-administered Kashmir kicking around a football near their parked vehicles at the Trade Facilitation Centre at Salambad in Uri. — AFP
SALAMABAD: The 49 truck drivers, grizzled men from the mountains of Kashmir, were on a routine job dropping goods across the de facto border between Pakistan and India when a drugs bust left them stranded.
For more than a week, the men from the Pakistani side of the divided region, one of the world’s most sensitive faultlines, have been stuck in the middle of a row that reflects the difficulty in boosting regional ties through trade.
Last Friday, Indian police along the treacherous mountain road leading between the two sides seized a truck and arrested its driver after 114kg of heroin were found concealed in a consignment of almonds.
Pakistani authorities then refused to let the other trucks in the convoy, or the 48 other drivers, back across the heavily militarised Line of Control unless the arrested man was returned as well. They also detained 27 Indian trucks and their drivers, who had crossed over on the same day to deliver goods as part of a barter trade agreement that was started as a “confidence-building measure” in 2008.
Huddled inside a hall at the Trade Facilitation Centre in Salamabad, 115km from Indian Kashmir’s main city of Srinagar, the Pakistani drivers are found watching a Bollywood film on cable TV.
“We are becoming a tragic movie ourselves,” said 30-year-old Ahsan Awan from Muzaffarabad.
Under Indian law, smuggling or possessing narcotics is a serious offence that lands an accused in jail without bail. — AFP