By Shabbir Mir / Muhammad Sadaqat
GILGIT / KOHISTAN: At least 17 vehicle owners and drivers were arrested Saturday night and sent to Central Prison Haripur as the strike of transporters operating along the region’s jugular vein, the Karakoram Highway, entered its fifth day on Sunday.
Life has virtually come to a standstill in Gilgit-Baltistan and Kohistan as transport associations protest against the “convoy system” of travelling enforced by the government. Under the framework, vehicles move in groups from Diamer till Besham, escorted by law-enforcement personnel between 8am and 4pm only.
The system was introduced in 2012 after repeated attacks on passenger buses and the targeted killing of identified individuals.
Over 700 vehicles have been parked at bus terminals in G-B, Kohistan and Rawalpindi as transport companies refuse to back off from their stance.
Transporters urged authorities to allow the free movement of buses and vehicles along the route, and termed the convoy system “flawed and impractical”. They said the system increases travelling time from 16 hours to 36 hours.
As offices and bus terminals remain padlocked, the cessation of work has irked employees of transport companies and travellers alike. While passengers remain stranded in G-B and Rawalpindi, attempts have been made to negotiate and find a common ground. “No breakthrough has been achieved in talks so far,” said a manager at Mashabroom Transport Company in Gilgit. “We want to reach a solution but the authorities do not seem to be in a hurry to settle the issue,” he added.
“Transporters and authorities engage in conflicts at the cost of passengers,” said Kashif, a student wishing to travel to Rawalpindi.
Transporters have demanded the government devise a mechanism that will ensure security, the well-being of their businesses and the convenience of passengers.
“With the existing system in place, it is easier for militants to target us,” said Khan Alam, a transporter, adding convoys of 50 buses escorted by a single police van are sitting ducks for organised assaults.
On Saturday night, police arrested G-B Transport Union President Ashraf Hussaini which sparked anger among transporters who blocked the KKH. At least 17 protestors were detained at Komaila police station, Kohistan from where they were shifted to Central Prison Haripur on Sunday.
A Gilgit government official requesting anonymity said the strike makes little difference to the authorities. “Private and government vehicles are still frequenting the route and following the established guidelines,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 6th, 2015.