Red tape and security concerns delay Kashmir frontier opening for civilians
INDIA-PAKISTAN LINE OF CONTROL – Red tape and security concerns will delay the long-awaited opening of the Kashmir frontier to civilians, officials said Sunday, another setback after nuclear rivals Pakistan and India had agreed to cooperate to allow earthquake victims to cross the border to seek aid.Instead of people, the neighbors will exchange trucks of relief goods on Monday in a largely symbolic gesture. The civilian exchange could take up to 10 days more to materialize.Pakistan and India reached a landmark accord a week ago to open five crossing points along the heavily militarized border in divided Kashmir starting Monday, raising hopes among Kashmiris eager to visit relatives and exchange aid.On Saturday, however, India said only one crossing point would be ready. Then on Sunday, Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said the two sides had failed to exchange lists of people approved for the crossings.”We have not yet received any list from India and our list has not gone to India,” said Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam, adding that she hoped paperwork would be taken care of on Monday. Each country would then have 10 days to process the names, though they could do it faster.An Indian military official in the Indian portion of Kashmir confirmed that no civilians would be allowed to cross on Monday, and that only relief supplies would be delivered across the Punch-Rawalakot crossing. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.India’s key concern was that militants could cross into Indian Kashmir and join a 16-year Muslim insurgency there against Indian forces, the military official said. He said the identities of the people crossing the border must be closely scrutinized.Ata Ullah, the deputy police chief in the Pakistani Kashmir city of Muzaffarabad, also cited Indian security concerns as a reason for the holdup.”We are willing to allow people to go, but India, for security, won’t let people” cross, he said.The 7.6-magnitude temblor that hit on Oct. 8 killed about 80,000 people – most in northern Pakistan but also 1,350 in Indian Kashmir. Hundreds of aftershocks, including one Sunday with a 6.0 magnitude, continue to rock the region.More than 3 million people in Pakistan have been left homeless by the quake, and hundreds of thousands have virtually no shelter. The United Nations and international agencies have decried a slow global response to the calamity, saying thousands more could die of disease and exposure as the bitter Himalayan winter approaches.Only a small fraction of the money requested for quake relief has actually arrived.”If we don’t get money, we must withdraw personnel and slow down the reconstruction of houses,” said Markku Niskala, the secretary general of the International Federation of the Red Cross, who was on a tour of the quake-shattered city of Balakot on Sunday.He said the IFRC had received less than half of the $117 million it asked for and will run out of money in a couple of weeks.At Titrinote, on the frontier at the Pakistani side of the Punch-Rawalakot crossing, officials prepared for what they said would merely be an exchange of aid – tents, blankets, food – at the frontier on Monday.”They will bring their vehicles to the crossing point, and Pakistan will bring their vehicles and the goods will be exchanged,” Pakistan Army Brig. Tahir Naqvi said.Pakistan’s Kashmir Affairs Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Islamabad was sending 60 trucks of relief goods in all to the Indian side.But that was a far cry from the human drama that had been anticipated for Monday.Mohammed Farooq Khan, the deputy district commissioner in the region, said he already had a list of about 100 Pakistanis in Titrinote that wanted to cross and said there were probably thousands more.”There are many, many divided families,” he said. “People are waiting anxiously.”The predominantly Muslim territory of Kashmir was split between India and Pakistan after the bloody partition of the subcontinent following independence from Britain in 1947. Both countries claim all of Kashmir in a dispute that has sparked two wars and kept families separated for more than half a century.In New Delhi, Ajai Sahni of the independent Institute for Conflict Management, said the frontier activity was “mostly a symbolic gesture.””The long-term relationships between the two countries will be defined not by this illusion of people-to-people contact but by relationships between the two states,” he said, adding that ties would remain strained as long as their “belief systems were in conflict.”—Associated Press writers Matthew Rosenberg in New Delhi and Sadaqat Jan in Islamabad, Pakistan, contributed to this report.