Pakistan, India prepare to open disputed border in Kashmir
Pakistan and India prepared to open their disputed border in Kashmir on Monday for a largely symbolic exchange of relief for earthquake survivors after paperwork delayed a hoped-for reunion of divided families.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf proposed last month opening five points on the heavily militarised Line of Control dividing Kashmir the region worst hit by an Oct. 8 earthquake. India agreed to the proposal designed to allow divided families to meet and for aid to cross both ways and the two sides said the crossings would open on Nov. 7.
But on Saturday, India said only one of the five, in its Poonch district which was lightly touched by the quake, would open on Monday.
No ordinary people were expected to cross because the paperwork, which involves an exchange of lists of those wishing to travel and security checks, was not ready, Pakistani officials said.
"Relief goods are coming from both sides, we are ready for that," Pakistani Brigadier Tahir Naqvi said in Titrinote, on the Pakistani side of the border.
"We haven't got any lists from India probably they are going to start with relief goods," he said. The Line of Control has divided Kashmir since the neighbours fought their first war over the Muslim-majority Himalayan region shortly after independence from Britain in 1947. The two sides used to exchange regular artillery fire along the line until they agreed to a ceasefire in late 2003.
That truce has underpinned a hesitant peace process between the nuclear-armed rivals which has included talks on a range of disputes, including their central disagreement over Kashmir. Pakistan controls about a third of Kashmir, India about half and China the remainder.
Defensive trenches can be seen at Titrinote, which overlooks the Poonch river, and many adjacent areas are still littered with landmines.
Pakistani officials have prepared a clinic, as well as passport, money exchange and telephone booths for visitors from the Indian side.
"Our act is very much in place ... we are generally prepared," said Naqvi, who said the opening was historic.
The Pakistani and Pakistani Kashmir flags fluttered in bright moring sunshine on the Pakistani side, while the Indian flag could be seen on the other side of a stretch of no-man's land. Sign boards on Indian side carried messages in Urdu. One read: "We have not opened the LoC but our hearts".
Last month's earthquake killed more than 73,000 people in Pakistan, most of them in Pakistani Kashmir, and about 1,300 on the Indian side.
Aid officials warn that with winter fast approaching, time is running out for up to three million people left homeless by the disaster in Pakistan, some of whom remain without help high in the mountains while temperatures tumble.
But the opening of the Line of Control is not expected to make a big difference to survivors or relief efforts.
While the Pakistani side suffered heavier quake damage than the Indian side, the area where the border is opening on Monday is on the southern edge of the disaster zone.
The Indian army said a relief camp at the point, at Chakan da Bagh opposite Titrinote, was ready to host 100 people and a helipad had been restored to evacuate any emergency patients.
However, Titrinote is accessible by road making it unlikely any patients are still awaiting medical help or emergency aid.
Aid workers say opening a border crossing into Pakistan's hard-hit Neelum valley, about 80 km (50 miles) to the north, would be most significant in terms of the flow of aid as that area is still cut off by landslides. India says it will open a route into the Neelum valley from the village of Tithwal to Nauseri on the Pakistani side on Thursday but Pakistan says a bridge must be laid across the Neelum river before relief goods can come in, reports Reuters. I.L.