Latent suspicion amid India-Pakistan goodwill (INDIA/PAKISTAN). Both sides claiming credit for opening Line of Control to quake victims

INDIAN soldiers stationed along the ceasefire line in Kashmir started removing landmines and other booby traps yesterday as the country prepared to lend Pakistan a hand in coping with the thousands of people affected by the Oct 8 earthquake. But beneath the bonhomie and mutual expressions of goodwill there lies decades of suspicion and barely concealed rivalry.


After India proposed to set up border camps that would offer relief to quake victims from the Pakistani portion of divided Kashmir, it decided yesterday to delay the plan until officials from both countries meet later this month - dashing hopes that the first of the Pakistani refugees would be arriving there soon.

Scenes of Kashmiris moving freely across the ceasefire line would be a public relations boost for South Asia, long seen as a powder keg of nuclear confrontation.

Still, neither side can resist scoring the occasional diplomatic point over each other.

Last Tuesday, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf urged India to allow the people of Kashmir to cross the so-called Line of Control, a ceasefire line between the two countries, to aid their kinsmen.

India responded. At 4pm last Saturday, New Delhi announced a proposal to open medical relief camps on its side of the Line of Control. Within hours, at 5.30pm, Islamabad proposed opening five crossing points on the de-facto border.

The idea, diplomats pointed out, was to show that each side had come up with the idea independently.

Almost as if to confirm such an interpretation of events, Indian foreign office spokesman Navtej Sarna said that the proposals made by Pakistan can be reconciled with 'those we ourselves made'.

Yesterday, Ms Tasnim said that New Delhi's proposal to set up medical facilities was not linked to Pakistan's proposal to help Kashmiris move across the Line of Control to help each other.

Foreign Ministry officials in New Delhi say many details will be ironed out when an Indian team flies to Pakistan before the end of the month.

'Some amount of infrastructural work has to be done,' Mr Sarna explained.

The refugees, when they do get to step across the Line of Control, will do so walking single file through a narrow passage at designated spots in Uri, Tangdhar and Poonch.

They will be watched closely by soldiers from both sides, and frisked.

The three crossing points are adjacent to some of the worst-affected quake areas on the Pakistani side of Kashmir. They are also some of the most militarised areas in the world.

While three medical relief camps may not be of too much help in a situation where 800,000 in Pakistan-held Kashmir alone are without shelter, the neighbours are aware of the kind of pressures they will soon face over Kashmir. That will come once people on both sides of the divide resume normal lives and take stock of the responses to the tragedy.

Some of it is showing up already. In Pakistan, where most of the lives were lost, fundamental questions are surfacing about Kashmir policy, expenditure priorities, the military's role in administration and so forth.

Mr Iqbal Mustafa, a Pakistani commentator, said: 'More than anything else, the quake has exposed the folly of our perceived threats and hazards. We have spent much time in creating phantom hazards while remaining oblivious to many real ones.'

Meanwhile, as the toll from the quake passed 53,000, the United Nations has warned that time is running out for the victims as winter approaches.

'There is a three-week window of opportunity to deliver assistance to mountainous areas before the first snowfall,' the UN's humanitarian office said.

'Severe weather, with heavy rain, is forecast to hit the area in the next three to four days,' it added.

Von: 25 October 2005 (Straits Times) Singapore Press Holdings by Ravi Velloor

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