India, Pakistan Discuss Opening Border
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Oct 29, 5:25 AM (ET)
By ZARAR KHAN
Boston University - IH - Certificate in Managing Disasters & Complex Humanitarian Emergencies HTTP://www.bu.edu/sph/siih
MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (AP) - India and Pakistan began talks Saturday on an unprecedented opening of their disputed Kashmir border to help victims of the massive earthquake believed to have killed about 80,000 people.
Foreign Ministry officials were meeting in Islamabad to discuss whether to allow Kashmiris to cross the heavily militarized Line of Control, the cease-fire line that divides the Himalayan region over which the South Asian rivals have fought two wars. A joint statement was expected later Saturday after the talks.
Since Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf suggested allowing Kashmiris to help each other recover from the Oct. 8 quake, both governments have shown a willingness to open the border but disagree how to do it, reflecting their mutual suspicion.
The 7.6-magnitude temblor killed about 78,000 people in Pakistan, most in the Pakistan-controlled portion of Kashmir. More than 1,300 people died on the Indian side. An estimated 3.3 million others were left homeless and fears for their lives are growing as winter closes in.
The latest in hundreds of aftershocks struck early Saturday, with a magnitude of 5.5 and centered in the quake zone, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.
The head of the Indian delegation, Dilip Sinha, told reporters on arriving in Pakistan late Friday that the atmosphere between Pakistan and India was positive and that "we hope to have useful talks."
Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam also expressed optimism.
"Pakistan and India can reach an agreement after Saturday's talks for opening the Line of Control for Kashmiris so that they can meet with their relatives and friends without facing procedural difficulties," she said.
Crossing the land border in Kashmir was forbidden for 58 years until Pakistan and India agreed to a twice-monthly bus service earlier this year, one of the most tangible results so far of a two-year peace process to bury their history of acrimony and also settle their competing claims to Kashmir.
Since the quake, India has delivered tons of supplies to Pakistan, and on Wednesday offered $25 millio to a faltering U.N. appeal for funds for the emergency relief effort.
India is setting up three relief camps on its side of the border where Pakistani quake victims could get medical help, food and relief supplies, but Pakistan says it wants to open up five crossing points, and would be willing to let Kashmiris from the Indian side cross to its side.
Opening the border is a particularly sensitive issue for India because of a 16-year Islamic insurgency in its part of Kashmir by militants seeking independence or the region's merger with Pakistan.
The talks could yet bog down, including over what kind of documentation people would need to cross the border.
Police in the southern city of Karachi said they arrested on Saturday five suspected members of an outlawed Islamic militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammed, for collecting donations for quake victims. The group has been fighting in Kashmir and is also accused of involvement of terrorist attacks in Pakistan.
Alarm is rising about the aid effort. The United Nations warned Friday that its helicopters ferrying desperately needed food, tents and medicine will be grounded within a week unless donors make good on pledges of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Jan Vandemoortele, the U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator in Pakistan, said Friday that opening the Kashmir border could help the relief effort - if not solve the logistical challenges posed by the formidable terrain.
Winter is expected within weeks, endangering survivors who lack shelter and a dependable food supply. Pakistani meteorologists are forecasting a much harsher than normal winter in the Himalayan mountains.
Mohammed Hanif at the Pakistan Meteorological Department said it was expecting 18 feet of snow in the region this winter, compared to 10 feet during a normal winter. Average temperatures would also be a few degrees below normal, at times dipping as low as four degrees below zero, he said.
Queen Rania of Jordan, an envoy for UNICEF, said the world community had a "moral obligation to do more to help victims of the quake, including thousands of orphaned children."
"If we do not act now thousands more innocent lives are going to die," she said during a visit Saturday to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan's part of Kashmir.
The official death toll from the quake in Pakistan rose Friday to 56,000, but central government figures have consistently lagged behind those of local officials, which put Pakistan's toll at about 78,000. Another 1,350 people died in Indian-held Kashmir.