LoC Standoff: Arrested Pak Driver Pleads Innocence

LoC Standoff: Arrested Pak Driver Pleads Innocence

5 February 2014
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Majid Jahangir

Srinagar: While Pakistan is adamant on the release of the driver, who is accused of smuggling narcotics, the detained driver has reportedly pleaded innocence to investigators. Pakistani driver Mohammad Shafiq Awan of Shard, Muzaffarabad, who has been lodged in the Srinagar Central Jail after he was sent to judicial remand, has told the police that he had no information about drugs being hidden in his truck, which was carrying almonds through the cross LoC trade. Awan was taken into custody by the J&K police after brown sugar worth over Rs 100 crore was recovered in Uri on January 17. He was booked under Section 8-21 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act. According to sources, the driver claimed that the consignment of almonds of Al-Fajar Company was loaded on his truck at Muzaffarabad. During their night stay at Chakoti (PoK), an unknown person woke him up in the wee hours saying that other trucks had started moving, the sources said. “I too started heading towards the Trade Facilitation Centre, Uri. While moving, I could see that a person was following me on a bike after I started from Chakoti. I could not make out anything at that point of time. But now when I recollect all the things, I believe that drugs had been concealed in my truck and I was being followed,” the trucker is said to have told the police during questioning. After the recovery of 114 packets of brown sugar, the cross LoC trade has hit a standoff and 76 drivers are held up on either sides out of whom 48 are at Salamabad in Uri and 27 are in PoK. Pakistan continues to seek the release of the arrested driver. Besides the driver, two Kashmiri traders, Tariq Ahmed Sheikh from Baramulla and Showkat Habib from Bandipore, are also in judicial custody. During the questioning, Sheikh has divulged that the consignment was to be unloaded in Amritsar, Punjab. The J&K police teams are already in Punjab and Delhi to investigate the case and are looking for the person for whom the consignment was to be unloaded. Police sources said another consignment was unloaded in Punjab before the drug racket was busted, which had also entered through the cross LoC trade. A Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the J&K police, which was constituted to carry out the investigation, is likely to submit an interim chargesheet before the court in the next few days. Meanwhile, families of the Kashmiri drivers, who are held up in PoK, staged a protest on the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road in Baramulla town. The protest was staged at the Khanpora area, 55 km from here, where the protesters demanded immediate release of the drivers. They ended their protest only after district officials assured them that the government was trying its best to end the standoff. In 3 weeks, Rs 8 cr loss to Poonch traders Indian traders operating via the Chakan da Bagh Trade Facilitation Centre in Poonch district have suffered a whopping loss of over Rs 8 crore in the past three weeks. President of the Chamber of LoC Trade, J&K, Pawan Anand said: “In the past three weeks, our traders have suffered a loss of over Rs 8 crore from the Chakan da Bagh route. Before the standoff, we had been sending 20 trucks laden with export merchandise worth Rs 3.50 lakh in each carrier to PoK every day.”