Quake no boon for Indo-Pak ties

The human suffering and ongoing relief efforts in the wake of the devastating South Asia earthquake will not overcome existing boundaries between India and Pakistan.  

Indian and Pakistani leaders have failed to bury past disputes
Indian and Pakistani leaders have failed to bury past disputes

The ongoing peace process between the two nuclear-armed rivals is also likely to be little affected, regional analysts say.

“What we are seeing these days of ‘making the border irrelevant’ is a massive attempt in public relations,” Pakistani analyst Miriana Babbar told Aljazeera.net.

“I do not feel that even this massive quake can erase decades of suspicion by both India and Pakistan.”

When Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf said he wanted the Line of Control – the de facto border which divides the disputed region of Kashmir – to become irrelevant, Indians were cagey in their response.

Eventually, the two countries agreed to open five locations across the heavily guarded border – India has actually fenced 740km of this border in Indian-controlled Kashmir to prevent cross-border infiltration.

About 250km of this concertina-coil, barbed wire, and sensor-controlled fence lies in the earthquake affected area.

Two crossings have been opened by India along the Line of Control recently to allow relief materiel, but civilians are still not being allowed to cross and have meetings.

Many, like leading Indian journalist, MJ Akbar, believe the earthquake may have come as a “God-sent chance” to President Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to resolve the 60-year conflict in Kashmir.

The partition of India and creation of Pakistan in 1947 left a sizeable portion of Muslim-majority Kashmir in India, a major bone of contention between both countries.

Blasts fuel suspicion

But the recent blasts in the Indian capital, Delhi, which killed more than 60 people and wounded 200 has led to a hardening of the Indian position.

The quake caused havoc on both sides of the Line of Control

The quake caused havoc on both
sides of the Line of Control

Singh has told President Musharraf that there was evidence of “external linkages” in the blasts, hinting to the involvement of Pakistan-based armed groups.

Pakistan believes that unless India coughs up credible evidence, it can do nothing to pursue the matter.

Musharraf has also come up with offers of cooperation in investigating the blasts, but the Indian response has been icy.

On the Indian side, there is a feeling that Islamabad is not doing enough to turn off what Delhi describes as the “terror tap” as evidenced by a spike in attempts at infiltration into Kashmir across the Line of Control.

An army spokesman told this writer that since 22 April there have been 36 attempts by groups of separatists to infiltrate into India across the Line of Control. He said 146 fighters had been killed by the security forces during these attempts.

“There is a shift in the strategy by militants to cross the heavily guarded Line of Control. They are trying to come in through high-altitude areas [where] surveillance may be a bit thin,” the spokesman said.

Pakistanis surprised

But India’s hardening position has surprised some Pakistani analysts and policy-makers.

Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Tasneem Aslam says her government “must be shown evidence [of Pakistan’s involvement in the blasts] before such claims are made”.

“We have in our custody Indian citizen Sarabjeet Singh whom the Supreme Court has sentenced to death because of his terrorist activities in Pakistan. But at no point of time did we threaten or even think of walking out of these talks,” she says.

India has allowed relief trucksinto Pakistan

India has allowed relief trucks
into Pakistan

The biggest sufferers of this fog of suspicion and distrust are the ordinary people of Kashmir on both sides of the border.

Nearly 87,000 people have died on both sides of the border in the killer quake – and nine-tenths of the casualties are in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir.

An estimated three million people are homeless on both sides.

Border crossings

So, when the two nuclear rivals opened the first crossing in Kashmir, hundreds of villagers on the Pakistani side ran pell-mell towards the border shouting “Let people cross!” and “What we want is freedom!”

Pakistani border police had to fire in the air and lob teargas shells to bring the situation under control.

Even though the opening of border crossings to facilitate relief efforts encouraged those calling for rapprochement, many analysts feel it is a case of too little, too late.

“I do not feel that even this massive quake can erase decades of suspicion by both India and Pakistan”

Miriana Babbar,
Pakistani analyst

“Yes it is a case of too little, too late. What this moment demands is sharing of grief, not blankets or tents. But it appears that red tape reigns supreme and it is fast becoming an exercise in futility fully exposing the statements from New Delhi and Islamabad,” says Babbar.

“It has been over a month since the earthquake occurred and as yet not one Kashmiri has crossed the Line of Control.”

There have been small initiatives though in using the earthquake to spur relations between the two Kashmirs.

Individuals and groups have sent in relief for quake victims on the other side of the border. “A year ago,” says Akbar, “this would have been considered unacceptable by Delhi.”

“It is a pity that a human tragedy should bring people together. But sharing sorrow, if not joy, is a forward way of improving relations,” says Hamid Ansari, former Indian representative at the United Nations.

“If the bus service between the two countries brought families together, the quake has helped to bring people closer at an individual level.”

Peace efforts

But neither countries seem to have taken any new bold steps to resolve the Kashmir question.

So could the euphoria over the opening of the border crossings on the Line of Control have been little more than hype?

“The overall impact will be felt by a small number of, say, 100 families, across the border, but let us not overestimate the consequences on the relationship of people on both sides,” said Ajai Sahni, executive director of the Delhi-based Institute of Conflict Management.

“The opening up of crossings can be [seen] more as a symbolism between the two countries, given that their relations are still pretty fragile.”

Source : Al Jazeera

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