Only one Kashmir crossing open for relief on Monday

Analysts criticised India’s decision to open just one crossing on Monday on its de facto border with Pakistan in disputed Kashmir, instead of five announced earlier, saying the process is too slow to help millions of earthquake survivors before winter sets in.

The foreign ministry said on Saturday it would allow people with permits to cross the heavily militarised Line of Control (LoC) at Chakan da Bagh in the southern district of Poonch from Monday.

Two points further north, Kaman Post and Tithwal, will open on Wednesday and on Thursday.

Analysts said the move to reduce and stagger the opening of crossing points a month after the devastating quake made them pessimistic that the two sides can rise above their bitter feud over Kashmir and focus on the humanitarian disaster.

“I think the importance of this move is being exaggerated,” said political analyst Tahir Mohiudin. “It is more showmanship for the whole world to see. It lacks essence.

“It is almost a month and the main focus of these camps [at crossing points] was to provide relief.
It is too late and that very purpose has been defeated. To add to the woes one has to wait for months for police and intelligence units to clear the names of those wishing to cross over,” Mohiudin told Agence France Presse.

The Indian army said on Friday that the historic reopening had been scaled back from five crossing points to three. At the time it said the three would open on Monday.

The Pakistani army said in Islamabad it was ready to open all five points.

“Relief centres have been established at all the five crossing sites which include the creation of shelters and storage of relief goods,” a Pakistani military statement said.

The scaled-down opening comes as the United Nations pleaded for relief supplies for millions left homeless in Pakistan before the onset of winter when the northern passes will be closed by heavy snows.

Poonch in Indian Kashmir’s mainly Hindu region is on the fringe of the quake-hit areas while Muslim-majority Kaman and Tithwal are closer to the worst hit regions of Pakistani Kashmir.

At the relief camps in the Indian zone survivors from the Pakistani side will get treatment and relief materials and can meet relatives in Indian Kashmir.

Noor Ahmed Baba, head of the political science department at Kashmir University, said the effort was too little and too late.

“It is a flop as far as providing relief is concerned,” Baba said.

“The current move is not of any great significance as you cannot expect a crowd due to government restrictions at the border or great relief operations being undertaken. It is being done under pressure from powerful nations,” he said.

The move to open the border came in the aftermath of the October 8 earthquake that left more than 73 000 dead in Pakistan and Pakistani Kashmir and over three million homeless.

In Indian Kashmir, 1 300 people were killed and more than 150 000 made homeless.

The majority Muslim state was split between India and Pakistan upon independence in 1947. Both countries claim the Himalayan territory and have fought two wars over the region.

India repeatedly accuses Pakistan of allowing Muslim militants to enter its sector of Kashmir, where a separatist revolt since 1989 has killed at least 44 000 people. Pakistan denies the charge.

Families divided by the ceasefire line are expected to get priority to cross, but the wait may be longer for charities and for a separatist group that has applied for permission to cross the border and deliver aid.

“We have applied with the Indian external affairs ministry for our visit to Muzaffarabad,” said Masarat Alam, a hardline separatist, referring to the capital of the Pakistani zone of Kashmir.

He said a 16-member delegation would be led by Syed Ali Geelani, who heads a faction that supports uniting Indian Kashmir with Pakistan. - AFP

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