Survivors of Pakistan's killer quake gathered somberly in debris-strewn fields for a normally joyous Muslim feast Friday as preachers called the disaster a test of faith. The president deferred a key purchase of U.S. fighter jets to focus on rebuilding.
Gen. Pervez Musharraf, in a tour of the quake zone, said he would postpone Pakistan's long-sought purchase of 77 F-16 fighter planes from Washington in light of the Oct. 8 quake that killed about 80,000 and left more than 3 million people homeless, most of them in Pakistani Kashmir.
The planes have become a symbol of Pakistan's improving relations with the United States after years in the political wilderness. Washington blocked the sale in the 1990s as punishment for Pakistan's then-illicit nuclear program, but reversed its position after intense lobbying by Musharraf and approved the sale in March. It was not clear for how long the sale would be delayed.
Musharraf, who was criticized earlier this week when he said the quake would not effect his country's enormous defense spending, also urged the world to be as generous with long-term help for quake victims as it was with Asia's tsunami last December and the U.S. Hurricane Katrina disaster in August.
Earlier in Muzaffarabad, the faithful gathered on straw mats in a field surrounded by smashed concrete as the helicopters of aid workers buzzed overhead in efforts to deliver much-needed aid ahead of the Himalayan region's fierce winter.
For most of Pakistan, Friday was the start of the Eid al-Fitr celebration marking the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, but Musharraf asked citizens throughout the country to tone down festivities out of respect for quake victims.
Zubair Abbasi, 24, an economics student before his university in Muzaffarabad was destroyed, said he would spend the day visiting orphans, perhaps playing soccer with them, instead of the normal Eid routine of feasting and distributing gifts among family and friends.
Some 1,350 of the 80,000 dead in the quake were in India's portion of disputed Kashmir, and the rest were across the border in Pakistani territory. The disaster has helped bring the nuclear-armed rivals closer, sparking an accord last weekend to partially open their militarized Kashmir border, or Line of Control, on Monday to allow Pakistani survivors to seek help at Indian aid camps. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said in New York that if rapprochement between India and Pakistan continues, it would help prompt a world weary of big natural disasters to open purses once more for quake victims.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri said in Lahore that his country is ready to make the partial opening of the border permanent. The competing claims by Pakistan and India over Kashmir are at the heart of their tensions and have sparked two of their three wars. New Delhi accuses Islamabad of abetting militants fighting in India's portion of Kashmir for the region's independence or its merger with Pakistan, a charge Islamabad denies.
The United Nations says it needs US$550 million (Ђ460 million) in emergency aid for quake victims but donors have pledged only US$131 million (Ђ109 million). Pakistani Finance Ministry official Ashfaq Hassan Khan said the world has pledged US$1.93 billion (Ђ1.6 billion) in aid over the long term, but the country has said it needs US$5 billion (Ђ4.15 billion). By comparison, a total of US$13.5 billion (Ђ11.2 billion) was pledged for tsunami victims, АР reports.
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