Pakistan, India work out Kashmir opening amid aftershocks
Pakistan and India wrestled with the details of a historic opening of the Kashmir frontier as a series of aftershocks traumatized survivors 11 days after a devastating quake.
The United Nations said the fresh tremors were spreading fear among more than three million people left homeless and dependent on international aid by the October 8 quake, as well as causing dangerous landslides.
In Pakistan -- where more than 41,000 died in the country’s worst natural disaster -- a 5.8 magnitude shock was felt in the capital Islamabad and other northern cities at 7:34 am (0234 GMT), the seismological department said.
Less than an hour later a 5.4 magnitude tremor rumbled through.
The military in Muzaffarabad, the razed capital of Pakistani Kashmir, warned that the fresh aftershocks could cause buildings damaged by the original earthquake to collapse.
Across the frontier in India’s sector of divided Kashmir, where more than 1,300 people died in the main quake, a string of tremors shortly after midnight (1830 GMT) Wednesday sparked panic.
"People rushed out of their houses and took temporary refuge in open fields in Srinagar and other towns," police said, referring to Indian’s Kashmir’s summer capital.
"Aftershocks continue to traumatize the survivors of the 8 October earthquake... and have triggered further landslides in already remote and high altitude areas," the UN Emergency Response Centre in Islamabad said.
The UN said 20 percent of quake-hit regions had still not been reached by the armada of helicopters, trucks and mules trying to supply winter-proof tents, blankets, food and water to desperate survivors.
Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf proposed late Tuesday that Kashmiris should be allowed to cross the Line of Control that divides the Himalayan region and help family members with relief and rebuilding efforts.
"We have decided now we would allow an amount of people coming from across the Line of Control to our part of Kashmir to meet their relatives and assist in the reconstruction effort," Musharraf said in Muzaffarabad.
India welcomed Musharraf’s remarks but said it was waiting for "practical details" of the proposal for the opening of the ceasefire line, which was set in 1949 after the first of the three wars with Pakistan.
Before the earthquake, India had been skeptical of Musharraf’s calls for a "soft border" in Kashmir as it accuses Pakistan of sending across Islamic rebels fighting New Delhi’s rule in the Muslim-majority territory.
The October 8 earthquake, which killed more than 41,000 people in Pakistan and 1,300 in India, came amid a peace process between the two countries which have gone to war two times over Kashmir.
In April, there were emotional scenes among Kashmiri families who were reunited after decades apart when Pakistan and India started a "peace bus" linking Srinagar and Muzaffarabad.
But decades of distrust linger. Earlier Tuesday, India refused Pakistan’s request for helicopters without the pilots. Pakistan said it was too sensitive to allow Indian military personnel in Kashmir.
Pakistan is in desperate need of choppers to reach far-flung Himalayan villages.