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Smooth-sailing: Passengers relieved as convoy system ends

By Shabbir Mir

GILGIT: Passengers travelling from Rawalpindi to Gilgit-Baltistan felt like a burden had been lifted as the buses they had boarded were not stopped along Karakoram Highway (KKH) and were not expected to move in convoys escorted by K-P’s law-enforcement agencies.

The convoy system along KKH, which had been put into place in 2012 after repeated attacks on passenger buses and incidents of targeted killings, was scrapped during a meeting chaired by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa chief secretary in Peshawar on Tuesday. The decision came into effect on Wednesday. Under the convoy system, 50 to 100 vehicles were required to move in groups from Diamer district till Besham, Shangla.

The convoy system was not passenger-friendly and created numerous problems for them.

Stress-free travel

“Today feels like a day of deliverance for us [as the convoy system has come to an end],” Tufail Khan, who travelled to Gilgit on Wednesday, told The Express Tribune.  “We didn’t have to wait for several hours to become part of convoys. The journey was not too burdensome thanks to the decision of the G-B and K-P governments to do away with the system.”

Farman Ali, a trader who also travelled on KKH on the same day, said this was the first time he enjoyed his journey along the 600 kilometre-long highway.

“I was happy as the journey was stress-free,” he said. “The decision to do away with the convoy has come as a blessing. It is best thing to happen throughout the decade.”

Dilbar Khan, the manager of a bus company, said his buses reached their destination on time for the first time in four years. “We hope [this move] lasts for a long time,” Dilbar said. “The drivers also were happy over the new decision.”

According to Dilbar, police patrolling forces have been deployed in Kohistan. A series of alternative arrangements have also been taken to ensure the safety of passengers.

Hours after the decision to scrap the convoy system was taken, the first check post of the Karakoram Patrolling Force (KPF) was inaugurated at Datta, Mansehra along KKH on Tuesday. At least 200 personnel have been hired initially in KPF and will be increased with time and as per the force’s requirements. KPF will ensure security to passengers from Datta Barrier to Bhasha – the entry point to GB.

Infamous system

KKH connects G-B with the rest of the country. However, the dilapidated highway and the convoy system extended the 15-hour journey from Gilgit and Rawalpindi to
22 hours.

In April 2015, transporters in Gilgit and Kohistan protested against the convoy system. Following the protests, the G-B government said it was willing to end the convoy system but could not do so as the K-P government was reluctant to cooperate due to security threats to their territory. In December 2015, recommendations were put forward during a two-day apex committee meeting to do away with the system.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 4th,  2016.

 

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