Quake Cracks Open Kashmir's Line of Control

Officials from Pakistan and India have allowed aid for quake survivors to cross the heavily armed border in Kashmir. The border, known as the line of control, has been closed for more than 50 years. Since the earthquake, the neighboring countries are considering allowing civilian crossings.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

South Asian officials took one small step this week to improve the aid to earthquake victims who are also living in a war zone. One month after the earthquake, many survivors remain stranded in Kashmir. That divided province is the source of decades of conflict between India and Pakistan. In a moment, we're hear about the latest efforts to make peace. We start inside Kashmir where the two countries have finally allowed some humanitarian aid to cross the militarized line of control. NPR's Ivan Watson reports.

IVAN WATSON reporting:

India and Pakistan unrolled red carpet at a temporary border crossing they established in the heavily mined Poonch Valley. Here, army officers and civilian officials from both sides shook hands across a white strip of tape lying on the ground. They then watched as Indian and Pakistani trucks parked back to back so that workers could unload tents, medicine and food, part of some $25 million in aid India has pledged to help Pakistani earthquake survivors.

(Soundbite of voices)

WATSON: B.R. Shurma(ph), a commissioner from India, called it a historic moment.

Mr. B.R. SHURMA (Commissioner, India): This border is heavily mined and it had been closed for the last more than 50-odd years, so it will take some time, and more important than the physical barriers which need to breach, it's a mental trust which needs to be established.

WATSON: But as officials posed for the cameras, a distant crowd of several hundred Kashmiri separatists swelled on the Pakistani side of the frontier where they chanted, `Azadi,' freedom.

Group of Protesters: (In unison) Azadi!

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

Group of Protesters: (In unison) Azadi!

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

Group of Protesters: (In unison) Azadi!

WATSON: Two men leading small boys then made a break for Indian territory. They were intercepted and arrested by Pakistani police who then began firing tear gas canisters along with bursts of automatic weapons fire to disperse the rest of the crowd.

(Soundbite of weapons fire)

WATSON: No one appeared to be injured in the clash. Protesters, like this man named Naim Jazim(ph), later denounced India and Pakistan for not allowing Kashmiris to cross the LOC or line of control.

Mr. NAIM JAZIM (Protester): I think this LOC should be removed totally, and people should meet others freely, without any limitations.

WATSON: The line of control has separated some Kashmiri families for half a century. Yesterday's border ceremony fell far short of an agreement reached between India and Pakistan after the earthquake, designed to allow Kashmiris to cross the LOC at five points, starting yesterday. No travelers were allowed to cross the border. Pakistani army Brigadier Tier Nakbi(ph) blamed India for the delay.

Brigadier TIER NAKBI (Pakistani Army): We are ready to see passengers, people who cross the line. We are ready to send the people across the line. But so far the Indian side is not ready to accept the list which we want to hand over.

WATSON: Indian officials say they will open the border crossing here in Poonch Valley to pedestrians later this week, but each visitor will need to first be vetted by Indian and Pakistani intelligence, a process that takes at least a week to complete.

Ivan Watson, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And you can find a profile of Kashmir at npr.org.

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