India, Pakistan exchange quake aid

Separated by six decades of bitter hostility, residents of the Indian and Pakistani-controlled parts of Kashmir lined their heavily militarized border Wednesday to wave and cheer as officials exchanged aid for victims of a massive quake that rocked the region last month. Porters carried hundreds of sacks of rice, wheat, sugar, tents, blankets and mattresses from India across the frontier into Pakistan, after officials briefly opened it for the exchange of relief material. In turn, Pakistan sent dozens of tents and blankets for victims on the Indian side of Kashmir.

The Himalayan region has been divided between India and Pakistan since a 1948 war by a cease-fire line, known as the Line of Control, a heavily militarized frontier.

Hundreds of residents, some with binoculars, lined the border on either side, eagerly scanning the horizon for a glimpse of their relatives.

"I'm really happy. We can at least see our relatives. We are so near, and yet so far," said Rubina Banu, 25, a school teacher in a village near Tulwari, the last military point along the border on the Indian side.

Residents have been eagerly waiting for India and Pakistan to reach agreement on travel documents and logistics needed to allow civilian exchanges between both sides of the quake-ravaged province. Rivals India and Pakistan have moved toward closer cooperation following the Oct. 8 temblor that killed more than 87,000 people on both sides of the frontier, most of them in Pakistan.

The two countries agreed on Oct. 30 to open five crossings and allow Kashmiris to cross over for reunions with relatives on either side. Those plans were delayed in part because the two sides needed to scrutinize lists of candidates, and India fears separatist Muslim militants may be among those trying to cross.

The first of the civilian crossings is likely to take place on Nov. 24 from the border point at Sirikote-Hajipir, Col. V. K. Batra, the army spokesman said Wednesday.

Sirikote is about 115 kilometers (70 miles) north of Srinagar, the summer capital of India's Jammu-Kashmir state.

For Farida Begum, 60, a gray-haired grandmother searching for her brothers among the crowds gathered on the Pakistani side, the prospects are thrilling, reports the AP. I.L.