India and Pakistan on Saturday proposed setting up aid camps along their disputed border in Kashmir, allowing Pakistani victims of this month's earthquake to cross the heavily militarized frontier to seek medical treatment and enabling divided families to visit each other.
The proposed three Indian camps in the quake-hit zone of Kashmir will also provide food, drinking water and tents to the victims. They are expected to begin operating Tuesday pending approval from Pakistan, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna.
The steps are a further goodwill gesture between the longtime South Asian rivals in the wake of the Oct. 8 temblor, which killed some 80,000 people. It follows a call from Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf that Kashmiris from both sides of the cease-fire line that divides the region be allowed to travel across to help each other rebuild.
Within hours of India making its proposal, Pakistan suggested five points along the disputed border for setting up aid camps and said those intending to visit its portion of Kashmir would be given immediate access if they carried proper travel documents, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
PTI quoted a Pakistan High Commission statement as saying that the families divided since Kashmir was split after India and Pakistan became independent from Britain in 1947 would be given priority to visit the Pakistan-held Kashmir. Other Kashmiris could also visit Pakistani-held territory.
Kashmiris will use special permits, issued by both sides, to cross the cease-fire line, known as the Line of Control, instead of passports and visas, PTI said.
"It appears to us that the proposals made by Pakistan can be reconciled with those we ourselves had already made," PTI quoted Sarna as saying.
"The (Indian) government has decided to set up composite relief and rehabilitation points at three places to provide facilities for medical assistance and relief to people from across the Line of Control," Sarna told reporters earlier.
The camps would allow Kashmiris on the Pakistan side of Kashmir to cross on foot for the first time since 1948, Sarna said. India and Pakistan launched a limited bus service running between them in April as part of a peace process.
Kashmir is claimed by both India and Pakistan in its entirety and the uneasy neighbors have fought two wars over the region since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.
Many families were separated when Kashmir was divided, and Sarna said that Indians would be allowed to visit relatives from the Pakistani side at the camps.
Pakistanis would be allowed cross the cease-fire line only during daylight hours after undergoing a security check, Sarna added.
Indian Kashmir has been beset by a violent insurgency by Islamic separatists who want an independent Kashmir or its merger with predominantly Muslim Pakistan. India claims that many of the insurgent groups have bases in Pakistan and frequently cross the border, charges that Pakistan denies.
India has sent three consignments of relief aid to Pakistan, which was hardest hit by the magnitude-7.6 quake.
India previously offered to send aid across the Line of Control to areas which were inaccessible from the Pakistani side, but easily reached from India. Pakistan declined the offer.
The earthquake flattened entire villages and left at least 79,000 dead in Pakistan's northwest and its portion of Kashmir. India has reported 1,361 deaths in its part of Kashmir, AP reported. V.A.
Several years ago, a prominent Indonesian businessman who now resides in Canada, insisted on meeting me in a back room of one of Jakarta's posh restaurants. An avid reader of mine, he 'had something urgent to tell me', after finding out that our paths were going to be crossing in this destroyed and hopelessly polluted Indonesian capital.