Vol. 5 Num 514 Mon. November 07, 2005  

Glitches delay Kashmir border crossing

It is unlikely any civilians will be allowed to cross the Kashmir frontier between India and Pakistan on schedule because of procedural glitches, the Foreign Ministry said yesterday, one day ahead of the much-anticipated opening.

Neither country had sent the other lists of people approved to cross, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam told The Associated Press.

"It doesn't look likely. We have not yet received any list from India and our list has not gone to India," she said, adding that she hoped the paperwork would be exchanged on Monday. Each country would then have as long as 10 days to process the names, though they could do it faster.

Aslam said relief goods to help quake victims on either side of divided Kashmir were expected to be allowed through.

The announcement was the latest disappointment since India and Pakistan agreed late last month to open the heavily militarised Kashmir frontier to speed relief supplies to victims of the Oct. 8 earthquake. Originally, five crossing points were to be opened today. But India on Saturday said that just one would be ready on time.

Meanwhile, forecasts of snow on the Pakistani side of the disputed Himalayan territory added to the ordeal for hundreds of thousands of survivors still without shelter nearly a month after the quake, as UN and other aid agencies struggle with limited budgets to deliver help before winter.

A strong aftershock jolted quake-hit Kashmir areas, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage from Sunday's magnitude-6.0 aftershock in Pakistan's portion of Kashmir, seismologists in the northwestern city of Peshawar said. It was one of the strongest since the 7.6-magnitude quake last month that killed about 80,000 and left 3 million homeless.

The 1,190 aftershocks since that quake have sparked landslides that added to the debris blocking roads needed to distribute much-needed aid to remote mountain settlements. Sunday's jolt unleashed several landslides near the northwestern city of Balakot, some of which temporarily blocked traffic Pakistani army Lt. Col. Saeed Iqbal said.

After the quake devastated Pakistan's side of the divided territory of Kashmir, India and Pakistan reached a breakthrough agreement to open five border crossings .

But India said Saturday that only one crossing would be ready a setback for the disaster diplomacy that has brought the nuclear-armed rivals closer in a time of need. It was also a blow for survivors eager to cross over to check on relatives, exchange provisions and seek help at relief camps being set up along the heavily militarised frontier.

Indian army spokesman Lt. Col. V. K. Batra said that two crossings were not ready because of the threat of land mines and landslides on the Indian side, but he also blamed Pakistan for delays in clearing another two routes, saying its work on bridges at the crossings was incomplete.

Pakistani officials, however, said their side was ready to open the crossings.

"All preparations on the Pakistan side are complete at the designated places," Pakistan's army said in a statement.

The Indian Foreign Ministry said two of the crossings may be opened by the middle of next week.

In Muzaffarabad, capital of the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir, Deputy Police Chief Ata Ullah said diplomats from both countries had been slated to meet Saturday to exchange a list of names of people intending to cross over but the meeting was cancelled. He did not explain why.

Ullah said the cancellation raised doubt about whether any crossings would take place at all on Monday, even at the border post India said was ready.

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.

The two sides began a peace process last year, and last month's frontier agreement helped the warming of ties, raising hope among many survivors that they would be able to check whether lost relatives had survived the magnitude 7.6 quake.

"Hundreds of us are planning to go," said Mirza Irslan, a resident in the Pakistani Kashmir village of Chinari. "We have no telephone lines, no way of knowing they are safe. This is our only chance."

Chinari residents had planned to embark over the weekend on a 30-mile walk through the Himalayas to one of the border crossings, but those plans were thrown into doubt by India's announcement.