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Back on track: NATCO resumes service, private transporters remain adamant

By Shabbir Mir

GILGIT: 

The government-owned Northern Areas Transport Corporation (Natco) resumed its bus service between Gilgit-Baltistan and Rawalpindi after a week-long gap on Tuesday.

Transportation services along Karakoram Highway, the only land route connecting G-B to down country, had been suspended following a strike called by the region’s transport association against the convoy system implemented by the government.

The protest had virtually cut G-B off from the rest of Pakistan, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded on both sides. While Natco vehicles hit the roads on Tuesday, private transporters are still up in arms and have announced they will continue to protest until the government accepts their demands.

“We resumed our services on the orders of the government,” said a Natco manager. Speaking to The Express Tribune, he said the buses are escorted by law-enforcement agencies for their own safety.

Under the system that was imposed in 2012, vehicular traffic along the region’s jugular vein moves from Diamer Valley and Besham in groups, accompanied by law-enforcement officials, between 8am and 4pm only.

Transporters argue the system increases travel time and makes the vehicles more vulnerable to organised assaults by militants.

Over 700 vehicles have been parked at the bus terminals of G-B, Kohistan and Rawalpindi as transport companies refuse to back off from their stance. The resumption of Natco service came only two days after the Kohistan district administration clamped down on protesters and arrested 17 vehicle owners and drivers.

Commenting on the resumption of Natco service, driver Rahman Khan said these tactics make no difference to transporters. “Our demands are genuine and we will not bow down to the government until the system is lifted,” he said. Khan added the process is impractical and causes inconvenience to passengers.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 8th, 2015.

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