Kashmir border deal step forward for India-Pakistan ties


ISLAMABAD (AFP) - The agreement to open up the Kashmiri border is a step in the right direction for India-Pakistan relations that will benefit earthquake survivors, even if it has come a bit late, analysts said.

"It is a positive development, it will help people affected by the earthquake on both sides," said political analyst Hasan Askari. "It will also improve the goodwill between the two countries and Kashmiris on both sides." India and Pakistan agreed late Saturday to an unprecedented opening of the heavily militarised border in divided Kashmir from November 7 to help victims of the earthquake that struck there earlier this month. "It`s an incremental move forward, but in real terms it is more symbolic," Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general and analyst, told AFP. The agreement came a week after Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf proposed opening the Line of Control (LoC) to allow the two-way movement of Kashmiris, in a bid to help millions left homeless by the October 8 disaster. "There are still certain things which need to be improved in the ways people would like. Kashmiris have been allowed to cross the LoC on foot, which means their capacity to carry relief goods would be limited," explained Masood. More than 54,000 have been confirmed dead in Pakistan, mainly in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and around 1,300 others have died in the Indian-controlled part of the Himalayan region since the 7.6-magnitude quake. Masood complained that the move to open the Line of Control a whole month after the worst natural disaster in Pakistan`s history was belated, but Askari disagreed, saying such a delay was to be expected. "The idea came after the earthquake and governments take time to make up their minds. Besides, there are certain (security) concerns on both sides about opening the border," he said. Kashmiris living in villages on the Pakistani side of the LoC expressed apprehensions Sunday about the complex procedures to get permits to cross the border. Ghulam Ahmed Bhat, who migrated in 1990 to Pakistani Kashmir from the frontier town of Kupwara on the Indian side, said people should be able to move about freely. "The decision is good but if difficult procedures are put in place, it would be meaningless and just a cosmetic step," said the 37-year-old. He said he had tried and failed several times to get a permit to use the landmark trans-Kashmir bus service launched in April this year. A joint statement issued by the nuclear-armed rivals in Islamabad on Sunday said that Kashmiris would be required to fulfil the same formalities for the new agreement as they do for the bus service. "It should not be like the way people had it for bus service travel, for which they had to undergo a cumbersome procedure and scrutiny by about a dozen intelligence agencies," Bhat said. Both sides agreed crossing points would be opened at Nauseri-Tithwal, Chakhti-Uri, Hajipur-Uri, Rawalakot-Poonch and Tattapani-Mendhar for an indefinite period from November 7. The agreement is unprecedented and the opening is sensitive for India as it accuses Pakistan-based militant groups of fanning an insurgency in its part of Kashmir since 1989. The deal was announced hours after three blasts rocked the Indian capital New Delhi, killing at least 61 people. A little known pro-Pakistan Islamic militant group, Inquilab, later claimed responsibility for the bombings. Pakistan "strongly condemned" Saturday`s attacks in New Delhi as a "criminal act of terrorism." Noted Pakistani writer and peace activist Munir Ahmed, known as Munno Bhai, told AFP the Kashmir agreement meant things were slowly improving between the neighbours, who have fought two of their three wars over the territory. "It is a good development," he said. Asked why both countries took a long time to reach an agreement, he simply replied, "It takes some time before snow melts and it should melt slowly." The momentum for peace between the nuclear-armed rivals appeared to have been on the rise since the earthquake more than three weeks ago. Pakistan has welcomed assistance provided by India for the earthquake victims. New Delhi has pledged 25 million dollars in response to a United Nations appeal for funds.

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