Holding a photo of their father, children of a Kashmiri driver detained in Indian Kashmir hoped that their father will buy them books and cricket bats when he returns - a hope that may not be realised anytime soon. These are the sons of Muhammad Shafique Awan, the truck driver who used to transport goods between Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Indian Kashmir.
Awan is currently detained in the Baramullah District Jail of Indian Kashmir.
Everything changed for Awan and his family on January 17, 2014 when the 35 year old driver was arrested by Indian authorities on account of being accused of drug smuggling on the Cross-Line of Control (LoC) trade route via Chakothi sector of Muzaffarabad leading to Indian Kashmir.
On March 18, 2014, a local court in Baramulla of Indian Kashmir extended the judicial custody of Awan till April 1, 2014. Awan was presented for the first time before the local court on February 19, 2014.
The exams of Awan’s children are near and his detention has had a bad impact on their studies. His daughters, Kainaat and Laiba, are 14 and 12 years old respectively whereas his sons , Muhammad Adil and Muhammad Aqib, are eight and five years old.
“I always do my homework with papa,” said Kainaat, crying. “But now, I cannot read anything because I keep thinking about him.”
The four children and their mother, Ayesha Shafique, reside in a two-room shanty residential setup. It has been provided to them by Awan’s elder brother. “My husband was the breadwinner,” Ayesha said, unable to control her tears. Ever since Awan’s arrest, they have suffered a lot. “I have no money to pay the school fees. How many times will I borrow money to run the house?”
While talking to The Express Tribune, Ayesha shared that Muhammad Aqib asks her when his father will come home with candies and biscuits for him. She has no answers to comfort him. “The government has not helped us yet.” Ayesha hopes that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his government will help free her husband from jail.
For Kainaat, her father is innocent. She says that Indian authorities should hand him over to AJK authorities if they have any proof against him. “AJK authorities should handle the matter.”
“How can we believe that the drugs were smuggled from AJK? And even if it were true, action should be taken against the traders. Papa is simply a driver,” expressed Laiba.
The actual problem
Director-General of Travel and Trade Authority (TATA) AJK, Brigadier (retd) Muhammad Ismail, called Awan’s arrest “a story cooked up by Indian agencies to disrupt trade.” He was of the view that if Indian authorities have proof, they should share it with TATA so that proper investigation can be started.
“Awan’s arrest is an open violation of Cross- LoC trade’s Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). The driver should be released immediately,” said Ismail. He stated that they were informed that Indian Kashmir’s Trade Facilitation Officer (TFO) had refused to hand over Awan to police. “The TFO did this because he wanted the matter to stay with the trade authority.”
Ismail said that police of Indian Kashmir arrested Awan forcefully on special instructions from New Delhi and other Indian security agencies. “They are not in favour of Cross-LoC trade between AJK and Indian Kashmir.”
Published in The Express Tribune, March 26th, 2014.
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