India, Pakistan's Post-Quake Peace in Jeopardy
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
There was some rare politeness along with pledges of support last month between India and Pakistan. The massive earthquake that killed more than 70,000 people in and around Kashmir raised hopes of a breakthrough in the peace process there. But as NPR's Ivan Watson reports from Islamabad, even a natural disaster could not overcome a half century of suspicion between the nuclear rivals.
IVAN WATSON reporting:
The divided territory of Kashmir has been the flash point for two of the three wars fought between India and Pakistan. Then, on October 8th, Kashmir bore the brunt of the worst earthquake to hit South Asia in a century. Sayid Tussadau Hussein(ph) was just one of the millions of Pakistanis made homeless by the disaster. His town of Chikoti(ph), which likes next to the frontier that separates Indian and Pakistani-controlled Kashmir, was cut off for several weeks from the rest of Pakistan by landslides.
(Soundbite of multiple conversations in foreign language)
WATSON: Four weeks after the disaster, he walked across the remnants of a ruined bridge carrying a donated tarp on his shoulder which would be used to shelter his family. Hussein says it all could have been much easier if the two governments had allowed aid to cross through the line of control from nearby India.
Mr. SAYID TUSSADAU HUSSEIN: (Through Translator) Yes, it would have been much better for us if the border was open. You know, this road was blocked by landslide for 17, 18 days. So--and we had nothing. Nothing reached us for 17, 18 days.
WATSON: Tandra Ahmed Khan(ph), an analyst and former Pakistani diplomat, says in the first hours after the earthquake, there were high hopes for some sort of a diplomatic breakthrough.
Mr. TANDRA AHMED KHAN (Analyst; Former Pakistani Diplomat): India was amongst the first countries of the world to offered sympathies. And the Pakistani side--in fact, the Pakistani president personally--thanked the prime minister of India for this prompt expression of sympathy.
WATSON: But soon after, Pakistan cited security concerns and rejected an Indian offer to send military helicopters to help with the rescue effort. Similarly, India refused to open up the line of control to allow separated Kashmiri families to visit each other. It took three weeks for the two sides to sit down for negotiations on this issue.
That same day, a series of bombs exploded in the Indian capital, killing 62 people. Though an Islamist militant group with Pakistani ties claimed responsibility for the attack, the two governments successfully avoided a confrontation. Instead, the delegations agreed to allow separated Kashmiri relatives and humanitarian assistance to begin to cross through several points in the line of control, starting on November 7th. The United Nations welcomed the decision, as did Muhammed Suliman(ph), an earthquake survivor in the Pakistani town of Muzaffarabad. Like so many others, Suliman's family was devastated by the earthquake.
Mr. MUHAMMED SULIMAN: (Through Translator) My wife was killed, my daughter was killed, and my father was injured in this earthquake. I've lost my home and everything is finished now.
WATSON: Suliman, a small, gray-haired man, is now desperate to mourn with his uncle and the rest of his family on the Indian side of the border.
Mr. SULIMAN: (Through Translator) I am ready to pay any price to meet my relatives across the line of control.
WATSON: But Amanullah Khan, the leader of a Kashmiri separatist party, says it's likely applicants will have to wait more than a week before Pakistani and Indian intelligence agents clear them for the border crossing.
Mr. AMANULLAH KHAN (Separatist Party Leader): If somebody has a very, you see, injured child and he wants something from the other side, then he will have to wait for 10 long days to know whether he is being allowed to take his child to the other side or not.
WATSON: Tandra Ahmed Kahn, the former Pakistani diplomat, calls the border agreement a small positive step, but he says...
Mr. T. KHAN: It falls seriously short of what was expected, given the spontaneous desire of the people on the two sides of the line of control to share their sorrow, their grief and provide whatever help they could.
WATSON: Khan says India and Pakistan missed a huge opportunity to further the peace process. Ivan Watson, NPR News, Islamabad.