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Earthquake in Ind/Pak
Kingsley pledges to help raise funds for quake victims

21/02/2006 - 17:59:27 British actor Ben Kingsley today promised to help raise funds to assist victims of a powerful earthquake in Pakistan last year that killed about 87,000 people and left millions homeless.

British actor Ben Kingsley today promised to help raise funds to assist victims of a powerful earthquake in Pakistan last year that killed about 87,000 people and left millions homeless.

Kingsley, on a visit to Pakistan, praised efforts by the Pakistani government to handle the aftermath of the magnitude-7.6 quake on October 8, which flattened entire villages in Pakistan’s portion of Kashmir and surrounding areas.

Kingsley met with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in Islamabad, the prime minister’s press office said in a statement.

Aziz said Kingsley’s visit to the quake zone would help draw the attention of the world community to the continuing need for assistance in rehabilitating and rebuilding quake-hit areas, the statement said.

“Sir Ben assured the prim minister that he would join the Pakistan government’s efforts to raise more funds for the (quake) victims,” it said.

The statement did not say whether Kingsley had already visited the quake zone or would travel there soon. Officials at Aziz’s press office were not available for comment.

Kingsley, 62, has won many awards for his acting, including the best actor Academy Award for his role in the 1980 movie Gandhi.

He received a knighthood in 2002.
Cartoon protests affecting quake relief work
Web posted at: 2/22/2006 5:53:9
Source ::: Internews

PESHAWAR: Protests against blasphemous cartoons are adversely affecting relief and rehabilitation activities in the quake-affected region of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province, health officials said here yesterday.
“Representatives and workers associated with more than 20 relief and rehabilitation organisations have curtailed their activities, apparently because of the anti-cartoon demonstrations,” an official said.

Some of the organisations had asked their staff to relocate to Islamabad. Most of the organisations working in Balakot, Battagram, Abbottabad, Mansehra and Shangla had already left for Islamabad after temporarily closing down their activities.

A representative of one of the relief agencies said that they had been directed by their headquarters to curtail or close down their activities and run for protection.
These organisations included UN agencies, International Committee of the Red Cross, Australian Aid International, Swiss Development Corporation, German Action Aid, Oxfam, GTZ, he said.
Officials said that relief activities had already suffered a setback after medical teams from Iran, China and the United Arab Emirate wrapped up their activities.
A government official said that the Iranian team had handed over 12 ambulances to Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, Islamabad, after wrapping up their work in Hazara division.
PoK quake victims must be rehabilitated soon
By Samuel Baid |
The earthquake-affected people in occupied Kashmir and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan have faced the worst of winter fury in past four months without adequate shelter, food and clothing.

But the coming summer may not bring much cheers to them if pucca dwellings are not made for them before the onslaught of monsoon, which bring in their wake devastating floods and landslides. Discuss: Corrupt officers will further victimise PoK quake victims

The United Nations has estimated that the October 8 earthquake uprooted 40 lakh people. To rehabilitate such a big number before the monsoons will certainly be an uphill task. Lt.Gen. Mehmud Nasir, who is in charge of reconstruction, said last month that the Government planned to start construction of houses in April.

But that would require one billion dollars, he said. The international donors, who had pledged about six billion dollars to Pakistan at a meeting in Islamabad on November 19, are now dragging their feet.

Till last month, Pakistan had received only 5 per cent of the pledged money. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan sent George W Bush senior as his special envoy to different countries to remind them of their pledge. The UN has also appealed to oil producing countries to help in relief work.

Even if all or most of the pledged money comes, the basic problem will be that of management and credibility. In the past four months the relief work has been very disorganised. Despite the flood of tents, tin sheets and other relief material from within Pakistan and abroad, only 25 to 30 per cent affectees could get shelters. For more columns CLICK HERE

Most tents collapsed under rain and snow. There are allegations that the Army itself grabbed good quality tents and other relief material. That is the reason why the opposition parties kept away from the relief work.

The idea of tin sheets came much later when children, old and injured people began dying of pneumonia and other diseases. But even tin sheets reached only a small percentage of the people.

As the fury of rain and snow increased in December-January, the Government decided to first provide shelter to people living at the height of 5000 ft or above. Head of the Relief Committee of occupied Kashmir Malik Nawaz said 40,000 tents given to these people could not stand heavy rain and snow.

It is not known how many survivors of the quake died because of rain and snow. Malik Nawaz's statement did not tally with the claim of Federal Relief Commissioner Maj.Gen. Farooq Ahmed Khan.

The latter had claimed on December 23 that 2,13,000 houses had been built in areas, which were at the height of 5000 ft or above.

The Pakistan Government had first decided to pay Rs.25,000 to the owners of each house destroyed by the quake. The idea was that each owner would retrieve some material from the debris of his destroyed house and build one room to protect himself and his family from rain and snow.

This was a very unrealistic scheme. First of all, as recipients complained, Rs.25,000 was too little even to clear the debris. General Pervez Musharraf then raised it to Rs.1.75 lakh per owner.

Lt.Gen. Mehmud Nasir said the recipient of this amount would be given a design of a one-bed room house to be built in an area of 400 sq.ft. He said the construction would be done under the supervision of Army engineers.

The second unrealistic aspect of this scheme is that the military government for the sake of its own convenience, is willing to give compensation only to the owner of a destroyed house, where as the realistic position was that under one roof the house owner and his many tenant families lived at the time of the quake.

It seems the Government has no scheme of rehabilitating lakhs of uprooted people who had lived reasonably good life but owned no property. They lived as tenants. Maj.Gen. Farooq Ahmed insists that the compensation would be given on the basis of the houses destroyed and not on the basis of number of families rendered shelterless by the quake.

But even this policy cannot be executed flawlessly. According to reports, land ownership records have been destroyed in the quake and the Army has not made a count of destroyed houses. This means now everything will depend on the memory, as also the goodwill of Patwaris.

This leaves the door open for large-scale corruption in the matter of fixation of compensation. The Army, which has earned a bad name for land grabbing in Punjab, NWFP and Balochistan, may grab prime land in occupied Kashmir also with the help of obliging Patwaris.

The epicentre of the October 8 quake was near Muzaffarabad, the capital city of occupied Kashmir, 10 km below the ground. In January this year, media published a survey report prepared by Chinese and Pakistani seismologists warning of underground cracks in occupied Kashmir.

The report advised the people not to build houses near rivers and get a seismographic survey done of the area before starting the construction. If this report is taken seriously, the selection of land for constructing new houses and other buildings will be a difficult task.

It is said there are still houses and school buildings from the rubbles of which dead bodies have not been extricated. People on their own try to move heavy concrete debris to try to pull out their dead near and dear ones. Two months ago they found a woman still alive under the rubble of a house.

According to Government's revised estimates, more than 82,000 people died in the quake. But it is still not known how many more died in the sub-zero temperature.
Veiled but Women More Visible After Quake
Zofeen Ebrahim

ABBOTABAD, Feb 21 (IPS) - On a bitter cold afternoon, late January, about 600 women, quite a few with eyes barely showing through veils, trooped into a huge marquee to make their feelings known about the poor progress of rehabilitation after the devastating Oct. 8 earthquake.

They were attending a 'people's assembly' organised by the Omar Asghar Khan Development Foundation, an non-government organisation (NGO) that has been working with rural communities in the Mansehra division of the North West Frontier Province.

Some clamoured for shelter and food rations while others pointed to the need for female doctors and gynaecologists and girls' schools in their villages. There were also many who did not like the design of the homes being planned and said so. But all of them demanded to be consulted.

Their mood belied the predicament they were in. Even the squally weather failed to dampen their zest. ''Who would've thought that these rural women, normally perceived as submissive, would be so feisty!'' said Rashida Dahod, a programme advisor with the foundation, who has worked in these parts ever since the catastrophe took place.

''The idea was to expand the political space of the marginalised so that they are able to effectively engage with the state,'' explained Dohad. Since the success of that first assembly, the foundation has held others with similar results.

''We wanted to provide the women a platform to share views, hopes, and fears about reconstruction of homes, of rebuilding health and education facilities, and of achieving livelihood security,'' said Dohad.

The quake mostly affected northern Pakistan, close to the borders of Afghanistan, where religion and custom demand that women remain behind the purdah (veil) and defer all decisions to their menfolk.

But, since the quake, women have become more visible than ever before--even if the fears and aspirations they express remain largely unattended.

Four months after the 7.8 Richter earthquake, that killed over 80,000 people in the northern parts of Pakistan and rendered an estimated 2.5 million homeless, aid remains short despite an enormous effort by both the government and international relief agencies.

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, the foundation began some measure of disaster mitigation. Its volunteers organised villagers in groups and started setting up serais (temporary shelters) providing a complete package of relief including shelter, food, and other essentials, right at the doorstep of the affected people.

This meant no displacement, greater security for women, ability to continue agricultural activity, better access to water and sanitation facilities, ability to guard household possessions, harvest and tend to livestock and begin reconstruction and planning. This and the ability to participate in village level rehabilitation and greater community solidarity and cohesion generated greater demand for more such serais.

By the end of Nov. 2005, the foundation had set up serais in 36 villages in three districts serving more than 6,100 households (nearly 50,000 population).
The women may be the poorest of the poor in Pakistan, but they showed, during these gatherings, that they were not ready to remain voiceless any more. ''This is our chance to speak out. We may live in villages but we, too, are Pakistanis,'' said Zarina, a bubbly woman in her 30s.

With their menfolk migrating to urban centres to find jobs, women have, for years, been quietly heading households. ''They were shouldering the responsibility of managing homes, even before the earthquake. The main source of local income is livestock, which women have traditionally managed,'' explained Dohad.</b>

With men returning to their respective workplaces in the urban centres, the responsibility of reconstruction too will be borne largely by women.

A prime concern has been accessing the Rs 175,000 (3,000 US dollars) per household being given out. ''We have heard about the government's package for home reconstruction, but are not sure if we will get it,'' said a weatherbeaten Hukumdad, in her forties, from a village called Sirla.

Many expressed discontent over the compensation with the cost of labour and transportation having skyrocketed. ''The money is not enough for reconstructing our homes. Earlier, labour charges per day were Rs.200 (3.5 dollars) but now these have gone up to Rs 500-600 (8-9 dollars),'' said Madiha from Buruj village.

However, the foundation's report states otherwise: ''Though inadequate, some genuinely affected households have confirmed receipt of this amount. Many undeserving households have also reportedly benefited from this compensation. Anecdotal evidence indicates that the distribution of compensation for death, Rs.100,000 (1,600 dollars ), is ineffective and plagued with corruption.''

Others questioned the mechanism of giving the amount to the male heads of households. ''We have an equal right to this compensation package,'' muttered many, having gathered enough courage.

''The earthquake has left deep crevices in our land, it is not fit for reconstruction, where will we go?'' was the anxious comment of a participant. ''We are tenants, what will happen to us?'' worried another. They suggested that the government should allocate plots to affected households.

''The government's package is quite frankly gender-blind. Its mention of women is in relation to widows and they are bracketed with orphans and the disabled. But all women are not widows!'' said Dohad.

The foundation has suggested to Earthquake Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority to disburse the house-rebuilding package in a joint bank account of the male and female heads of household. Policy initiatives such as this can bring a huge difference in the status of women at the household level, and ensure that the government's stated objective to ‘build back better' is met.

While there was general unanimity over following building codes for safe reconstruction, quite a number of women lamented that the pre-fabricated models neither met with their traditions nor respected their privacy.

''We need a design that respects our privacy and purdah,'' has been a common refrain.

Many young girls attending the people's assemblies spoke passionately about their right to education. ''Are girls less important than boys? If we are equal then why is our education not given due importance?'' asked Aasiya from village Sihali.

''Our pleas to reconstruct our dilapidated school building were simply ignored. Who will be held responsible for the deaths of students if it caves in?'' questioned Rabya, a student of the Garhi Habibullah Girls' School where more than 200 girls were buried alive. Rabya herself was trapped under falling debris for more than two hours before she was rescued.

Dohad sees here ''a real opportunity to change traditional power relations which can bring a lasting change.''

''Reconstruction must not only rebuild, but must also significantly improve conditions in devastated rural areas, reducing the vulnerability of the rural poor,'' said Ali Asghar Khan, the chairperson of the foundation. He urged the government and other development partners to listen to the voices of the affected, particularly the women and the poor.

''It's easier said than done,'' says a skeptical Dorothy Blane, country director of ‘Concern', an Irish NGO, that is involved in rehabilitation work in the frontier province and intends taking the community mobilisation approach by encouraging formation of both male and female groups.
''Even if the groups form, it is a still a big jump for women to feel free to raise their voices, and a bigger one for them to be heard. When you consider how little changed even in dire circumstances, with injured women refusing to accept treatment from male doctors even with their husband's permission, I am not totally convinced that it will be seen by all the women themselves as an opportunity to bring about positive change....but we, as NGOs, need to support those that do,'' Blane said. (END/2006)
China, Pakistan reinforce ties with sweeping pacts
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By Dean Visser

2:27 p.m. February 20, 2006

BEIJING – China and Pakistan reinforced their steadily warming ties Monday, signing agreements on a range of issues – including defense and energy cooperation – just days after militants killed three Chinese engineers in Pakistan.

Chinese President Hu Jintao called visiting Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf “an old friend of the Chinese people” after the two exchanged handshakes and broad grins in Beijing's Great Hall of the People on Wednesday evening.

Hours earlier, Musharraf apologized to China – one of his country's main defense suppliers and trading partners – over the drive-by shootings of three Chinese engineers by tribal militants in Pakistan.

He said the incident brought “shame” on his country.

“The man in the street (in Pakistan) loves the Chinese people,” Musharraf told China's parliament chief, Wu Bangguo, during the part of their Beijing meeting open to reporters.

Fifty suspects have been arrested.

Hu said China hoped Pakistan will ensure the safety of Chinese people in Pakistan – a presence likely to increase after the leaders and high-level delegations from both sides held closed-door meetings, then signed 13 agreements on a wide range of issues.

One of the first was on cooperation between their defense ministries.

In the part of their meeting open to media, Hu said his country would cooperate with Pakistan to combat the “three forces,” a term by which China refers to terrorism, separatism and religious extremism.

As with all 13 agreements signed Monday, few details about the defense pact were immediately available.

The two countries already jointly build JF-17 Thunder fighter planes.

Another of the pacts covered energy cooperation.

China has helped Pakistan set up a nuclear power plant, and the two recently started work on a second in the country's east.

Another agreement was for China to provide Pakistan with $300 million in loans to buy Chinese goods.

In another, China agreed to help upgrade a highway that runs near its border in northern Pakistan and was badly damaged by last year's earthquake.

The two sides also signed a pledge to work together on quake research following the massive disaster that killed about 80,000 people and left more than 3 million homeless.

Musharraf's five-day visit to China marked the 55th anniversary of their diplomatic relations.

Just before arriving Sunday, Musharraf said China's growing influence makes it a vital force for Asian stability and development.

Other agreements signed Monday covered expanding economic ties, cooperation in health, joint work on family planning, a plan to boost two-way trade, meteorological research, fisheries, pesticide management, and an agreement for China to help Pakistan provide vocational training.
Quake help important, says Bush

By Our Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Feb 18: President George W. Bush has said that America cannot afford to be an isolationist in today’s world. He was explaining why he thought it was important to help Pakistan deal with the devastating Oct 8 earthquake.

“We cannot defend ourselves if we’re isolationist. … And, therefore, when we see suffering in places like Pakistan, or because of the tsunami, the United States of America is leading the way in,” Mr Bush told a gathering of his supporters in Florida on Friday.

Mr Bush, who on Friday sought $126 million from Congress to help the earthquake victims, said the US assistance had helped Pakistan cope with this problem.

“It helped a lot in Pakistan, for example, to see those choppers flying relief supplies up for poor folks whose lives had been just devastated,” said the US president while explaining how these humanitarian efforts helped improve America’s image abroad.

He said after the earthquake, President Pervez Musharraf told him that hundreds of thousands of people were either dead, injured or displaced, so he decided to respond immediately to Pakistan’s needs.

“And there was the US military flying in supplies,” he added.
Clinton meets Musharraf, condoles loss of life in quake
Clinton flays publications of blasphemous cartoons

Saturday February 18, 2006 (0158 PST)

ISLAMABAD: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, left, and President General Pervez Musharraf chat during a meeting at the President House.

ISLAMABAD, February 18 (Online): Former US President Bill Clinton condoling the colossal loss of life and property in the October 8 earthquake said that not only US government but various US organizations are helping in the reconstruction process.

He was talking to President Musharraf during their meeting at the Aiwan-e-Sadr on Friday. The two dignitaries also exchanged views on matters of mutual interest, situation in quake hit areas, regional and international affairs

President Musharraf thanking the US government and its people for their support and assistance during the Oct 8 crisis said that US assistance in providing helicopters and military personal for the relief and rescue work was a great help and helped us to cope with this crisis in an amicable way.

President Musharraf also clarified Pakistan¹s stance on regional and international affairs and said that Pakistan is working for peace and stability in the region and we want to settle all issues with India peacefully. He said composite dialogue in this regard is continuing and we have suggested self governance and demilitarization proposals and we are optimistic that India would respond positively to our suggestions.

He however emphasized that without the settlement of the Kashmir issue lasting pace in South Asia would be a distant dream and US should continue playing its role in the Pak-India composite dialogue process so that the issue could be settled.

President also shared his views on nuclear proliferation, situation in Afghanistan, Middle East situation, war on terrorism and cooperation with the US in various sectors.

Former US President Bill Clinton lauding President Musharraf¹s policies against terrorism said that US regards Pakistan as its close ally and the way Pakistan has played a role in creating world peace and fighting against terrorism is laudable. He also hailed the economic policies of Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Former US president Bill Clinton criticized the publication of blasphemous cartoons by Western media and said that material that hurt sentiments of the followers of any religion should not be published.

"Media should avoid to publish that things which create gap among different religions", Clinton told media men after holding meeting with Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz in Prime Minister House here on Friday.

He noted that every one had right to opine but one could be allowed to write against any religion.

Former US president also lauded Pakistan¹s role in war against terrorism besides appreciating government¹s reforms policies.

He noted that Pakistan was on the way of progress due to its comprehensive reforms.

Clinton said that entire world including US was facing fatal disease of HIV AIDS adding, there was dire need of creating awareness among people about this disease.

Education and economic progress are the best way to be protected against this fatal disease, he maintained.

Speaking on the occasion, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz offered thanks to former US president for visiting Pakistan to launch anti-HIV AIDS drive.

He noted that there were 20,000 to 50,000 HIV AIDS infected persons in Pakistan saying, people were being aware about this fatal disease.

The Prime Minister said that Pakistan wanted peaceful solutions of all disputes and had belief on harmony among different religions.

We favour enlightenment and moderation, he added.

He observed that publications of derogatory caricatures by Western media saddened Islamic world adding, these type of publications must be avoided.

Earlier in a meeting, both Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Ex US president Bill Clinton discussed matters of mutual interest, situation resulted after earthquake in Azad Kashmir and NWFP besides exchanging views on HIV AIDS control program.

Former US president formally signed memorandum for launching AIDS Control drive in Pakistan. According to memorandum, Clinton Foundation will provide medicines to Pakistan on low rates to control HIV AIDS.

Saturday, February 18, 2006 E-Mail this article to a friend Printer Friendly Version

Security concerns slow relief efforts in quake areas

ISLAMABAD: The ongoing public protests over the publication of blasphemous cartoons in the western media are curtailing relief operations of International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Azad Kashmir and NWFP.

According to a press release issued by IOM on Friday, the organisation’s personnel working in the field – specifically the distribution hubs in Mansehra, Balakot, Bagh, Batagram and Muzaffarabad – have been restricted from securing locations eversince the religious holiday of Muharram on February 10.

“There have been no attacks on the relief agency staff or offices in Pakistan. However, UN and IOM security officers are concerned that while the international aid community is not a target of these protests, there is the potential for the staff to inadvertently get caught up in a security situation,” states the release. On Friday all IOM staff movements in Pakistan were cancelled after reports suggested there might be violent protests after weekly congregational prayers. All IOM offices, including Islamabad, gave their local staff off till Monday and advised all international staff to stay in doors.

“Everything is peaceful at present but an operational shutdown has been called for midday today through the weekend,” says IOM Pakistan Head of Security Paul Johnson. “The safety of our staff is paramount and these security measures are simply precautions,” he added. Although aid deliveries have been restricted, the emergency shelter needs of those affected by the earthquake have mostly been met and the cold winter is about to end. Assistance is still required in Abbaspur and Hajira Tehsils of Bagh district, where IOM is planning to ship 400 complete shelter kits with corrugated galvanised iron (CGI) sheets to a local NGO operating in the area. staff report

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Flexibility needed
Being rigid won’t do, flexibility is the need of the hour if India really means breaking the ice and going forward, comments
The most striking memory of my eight-day interaction in New Delhi with a variety of Indian opinion and policy-makers remains their love-hate perception of President General Pervez Musharraf. They love him, like him and sometimes respect him for significantly diluted Islamabad’s traditional stance on Kashmir dispute. At the same time, he is blamed for igniting old pains and bringing to fore new headaches for insisting on the settlement of the issue and that too in keeping with aspirations of the Kashmiri people. The occasion was a conference on ‘Kashmir after the Quake’ under the auspices of Delhi-based think tank ‘The Nelson Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution’ which attracted a wide range of people from different schools of thought.
The delegates both from Pakistan and Srinagar shared the view that instead of sticking to obduracy and making the political differences with Pakistan an excuse, India must give a serious thought to the self-governance proposal and initiate talks. Delaying tactics for one pretext or the other are no solutions to the problem. The Indians apparently believed that the idea of self-governance is not a bizarre or impracticable one. They have an appetite for its details, especially about Pakistan’s real intentions on the formula. The Indians, however, seek to apply a self-governance formula to pre-1947 Jammu and Kashmir.
Some Indian analysts are even keen to find creative ways to settle the Kashmir issue around the self-governance formula. Three key elements determine today’s India-J&K relations i.e. Instrument of Accession, article 370 of the Indian constitution and the Delhi agreement of 1952. However, a few assume that India might abrogate the special status to Kashmir under article 370 and in future develop a framework on the basis of the Delhi agreement 1952. According to the pact, India would exercise nominal power i.e. defence, foreign affairs, communication and currency.
At the same time, the Indians seem keen on increasing their knowledge of the Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir. Indian scholars also ask questions on the worldview of a common person in AJK. They were stunned to know that unlike the Indian-held Kashmir, the Northern Areas and AJK are constitutionally not part of Pakistan. Although, the UN resolutions are crystal clear about the future of the state, the status of Azad Kashmir has never been defined in international legal terms by either of the parties i.e. Azad Kashmir, the Pakistani governments or the United Nations.
Pakistan maintains that accession of the state of Jammu and Kashmir to the Indian state was not final and the people of Kashmir should decide the future through a plebiscite. For that matter, all the three successive constitutions in Pakistan’s lifetime, the clause (mentioned below) on the future of Jammu and Kashmir has remained intact:
‘When the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir decide to accede to Pakistan, the relationship between Pakistan and the State shall be determined in accordance with the wishes of the people of that State.’
Moreover, Pakistan does not refer to Jammu and Kashmir in its constitution as its geographical entity. The relationship between AJ&K and Pakistan are based on a treaty - Karachi agreement of 1949 –while the AJ&K constitution of 1974 gives Pakistan legal rights through the Kashmir Council. The same Karachi agreement gives Pakistan the legal right to control Gilgit and Baltistan.
For some analysts the million dollar questions remain: Would Pakistan be ready to extend the same self-governance option to Gilgit and Baltistan? What will be the status of LoC in the new dispensation? Will it become a permanent border or otherwise? What mechanism would apply to monitor the new governance set-up across Kashmir? Will Pakistan and India have a say in the affairs of Srinagar, Muzaffarabad and Gilgit respectively? Who will represent the people of Jammu and Kashmir across LoC? Possibly fresh elections will be necessary, so that new legislatures could endorse the settlement. Above all, New Delhi is deeply interested to make this compromised solution final. Thus, no one could revisit it again!!!
Certainly, there are no readymade answers to these questions. There are still many slips between the cup and the lip and enormous spadework needs to be carried out at the official and civil society level to arrive on a well-crafted consensus formula.
Some Kashmiris told me after their personal interaction with Indian premier Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi that both are fairly interested to settle this issue with the Kashmiris as well as Islamabad. Manmohan personally favours frequent intra-Kashmir dialogue and interaction of the leadership on both sides of the LoC. Some Kashmiri leaders even quoted Manmohan expressing willingness to consider Kashmiris on both sides to live anywhere they like to, Srinagar or Muzaffarabad. However it is disheartening that his close aides’ are relatively cold and unassuming.
Demilitarisation of a few towns of the Valley attracted a great deal of discourse on the sidelines of the conference. However, the Indian delegates unanimously conditioned demilitarisation with “Islamabad’s dismantling of terror infrastructure”. The delegates from Azad Kashmir and the Valley insisted on demilitarizing the area and leaving the security-related issues onto the local people with the help of law-enforcing authorities. We also explained that Pakistan will also cooperate with India to ensure law and order in these areas. The Indians believed that New Delhi was ready to accommodate the Pakistani point of view to some extent but would not agree on joint control of the state.
Some believed that New Delhi may accept a joint commission of Srinagar and Muzaffarabad governments to settle mutual problems.
Not only did the Balochistan unrest make headlines in Indian print and electronic media but Doordarshin also daily airs a programme to propagate the alleged atrocities of Pakistan forces in the military operation. It seems that the Indian government has decided at the top level to highlight the Balochistan issue equating it with Kashmir. Some Indian delegates even tried to club the Balochistan and North Waziristan violence together to satisfy India’s damaged ego on Kashmiri freedom movement. Personally, I sensed through these interactions that nothing can deter New Delhi from interfering in the Balochistan crisis besides exploring dissidents in AJK, Gilgit and Baltistan.
Interestingly, a large number of cynics still believe that Islamabad has lost its battle in Indian-held Kashmir and has instead indulged in serious internal conflicts in Balochistan and tribal areas. “The Hurriyat Conference is a divided house and their (Indian) armed forces have internalised the conflict which are capable of running counter militancy operation for another two decades.” Moreover, the Indian cynics cherish the worldwide consensus of opposing armed resistance.
Undoubtedly, New Delhi has further emboldened with fresh nuclear energy deals with Washington. Even, Inder Kamal Gujral was quoted by a section of press as saying that Islamabad has no option but to compromise with New Delhi. This lobby, backed by senior bureaucrats, suggests that New Delhi should not budge from its stated position. If such are the perceptions and illusions in and across New Delhi, none other than Indian Prime Minster Manmohan Singh will have to take a political decision to push the current process forward before it falls apart.

(The writer hails from Rawalakot. He can be emailed at ershad@islamabad.net)
Doctor recounts survival stories in quake chaos
Dave Mark

A DOCTOR who flew into the heart of an area devastated by the south Asian earthquake has spoken publicly for the first time about the tragedies and survivals he witnessed while desperately trying to save lives in ruined Kashmir.
Scunthorpe General Hospital's Muzaffer Ahmed, a consultant in general/colorectal surgery, responded to the earthquake by offering his services to the charity Humanity First, to help the many people affected by the disaster.
Mr Ahmed took the responsibility of being a Humanity First team leader. The UK Humanity First team consisted of two team leaders, and eight other doctors specialising in different areas.
The team set off together for Pakistan, where members spent two weeks working continuously to help people affected by the earthquake. Much-needed supplies were taken – 50 cartons of medicine and medical supplies.
Mr Ahmed said that when the team arrived in Pakistan members were not prepared for the reality of the devastation the earthquake had caused. This soon became apparent as the team travelled to Bagh and the small town where it would be based. <b>In Bagh more than 70 per cent of the buildings had been completely demolished.
Mr Ahmed said: "It was a devastating scene, with people without food and shelter and the cold weather about to start. There was a sense of uncertainty and insecurity everywhere. We tried to serve them in our best capacity."
Teams provided all aspects of medical care, and members had to work in some of the most difficult conditions they had ever experienced. Mr Ahmed safely delivered a baby on a helipad.</b>
He added: "We witnessed a three-month-old baby being pulled out of the rubble alive after six hours and he was healthy and did not have a single scratch on his body.
"Events like these kept everyone's hopes alive and gave us a lot of determination."
The team worked for two weeks day and night to help the victims and also provided tents and shelter, along with food and medicine.
The Pakistani government's official death toll was 87,350 at the end of November. Some estimate that the death toll could reach over 100,000. Most of the affected areas are in mountainous regions and access is impeded by landslides.
16 February 2006
Govt to provide free of cost artificial limbs to Quake affectees in Pakistan
'Pakistan Times' Staff Report

ISLAMABAD: Chief Health Affairs in the Ministry of Health Dr. Athar Syed Dil Wednesday said that the government would provide free of cost artificial limbs to the affected people.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had issued directives to provide artificial limbs to the quake-affected people, he said.

He advised affected people to approach National Institute for Handicap for artificial limbs.

The government started to provide artificial limbs to the affected people soon after the recovery of their injuries.

Dr.Athar Syed said people who had gone back to their home should contact phone number 052-9262126 for artificial limbs.

To a question he said soon after the October-8 earthquake the ministry had started one of the biggest medical treatment operation in the quake-hit areas with the cooperation of international agencies.


He said after the earthquake all hospitals of twin cities were put on alert to take care of thousands of injured.

Two team of doctors along with all medical instruments were sent to Muzaffarabad by helicopter for providing medical cover to the quake survivors, he added.

Dr.Athar Syed appreciated the services of Cuban doctors and medical staff in the quake affected areas.

He said Cuban field hospital provided medical facilities to thousand of people in the quake hit areas.•
Quake victims suffer 'thoughtlessness'

By Aamer Ahmed Khan
BBC News, Karachi

Pakistani cell phone shop
Cell phone businesses have flourished in the quake-hit areas

Quake survivors in Pakistan's northern areas and Kashmir may have lost their homes, loved ones and livelihoods - but they still have their phone bills to pay.

Survivors in Balakot, a devastated north Pakistan town, were shocked to find telephone bills delivered to their ruined houses in early November.

The bills were stamped with the customary reminder that failure to pay in time may lead to disconnection.

The episode perplexed many, who wondered what there was to disconnect.

Some survivors protested against the bills demanding they be withdrawn, one mosque official told the Associated Press.

Thoughtless behaviour

The agency also quoted Tahir Khan, a Pakistan telecoms official in Balakot, who said that of the 1,957 telephone lines working in Balakot at the time of the quake, only 172 had been restored.

If demonstrations were allowed in the affected areas, you would probably see a dozen every day
Quake survivor

But he refused to comment on people's complaints, saying he wasn't authorised to do so.

The incident was one of the first reminders of the thoughtlessness that seems to have started to creep into the management of the affected areas.

And Pakistan Telecommunication Company Ltd (PTCL) is not the only company guilty of such thoughtlessness.

Residents of tent villages in and around Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, say that they have been facing such behaviour almost on a daily basis.

"If demonstrations were allowed in the affected areas, you would probably see a dozen every day," says one irate Kashmiri.

In the first week of January following the first winter rain and snowfall, local authorities in Muzaffarabad cut off the electricity supply to Dewan tent village, one of the largest in the city, because it was using too much electricity.

Dr Ehteshamul Haq, International Organisation for Migration
Dr Haq says there is still a "relief mentality"

Local authorities have declared free electricity in the affected areas till 31 March.

Given that open fires or gas, coal or wood-burning heaters were not allowed inside tents because of a danger of fire, most of the survivors had bought themselves electric heaters.

But the soaring electricity consumption in the wake of the first major cold wave clearly had the authorities rethinking their initial largesse.

While deliberate disruption of power was denied by the authorities, officials said there simply wasn't enough electricity to go around.

But locals rubbish the argument, pointing out that power had not been restored in more than 40% of the villages. So where is the share of these villages going, they ask.

"We now need to pause and think," says Sardar Riaz, the national program manager of the United Nations Development Programme in Muzaffarabad.

We need at least 14 to 16 sheets to build a roof but each family has been given only six
Mohammed Hussain

"We need to make an assessment of what has been done so far and how we need to proceed from here."

The International Organisation for Migration's community health officer, Dr Ehteshamul Haq, agrees: "We have not quite come out of the relief mentality yet, whereas we need to focus on longer-term policies now."

One obvious example of the "relief mentality" is the way the army has gone about dealing with the survivors' shelter problem in the relatively low altitude areas.

"Whatever is delivered to us here, we redistribute on an equal basis, exactly the way we distributed food in the days following the quake," says an official of the 3rd Northern Light Infantry (NLI).

His unit was entrusted with the task of distributing iron sheets used for building roofs in the rural areas.

It is a well-known fact that the army's even-handed food distribution policy went a long way in preventing unrest in the rural areas at a time when food supplies were running short.

Total disaster

The policy ensured at least a few meals at a time for every affected family.

But the same policy when applied to housing material resulted in a total disaster.

"We need at least 14 to 16 sheets to build a roof but each family has been given only six," says Mohammed Hussain, a farmer in the village of Fatehjang Baandi near Muzaffarabad.

As far as the authorities were concerned, Fatehjang Baandi was marked "served" with iron sheets. But not a single house in the area had received enough with which to build a proper shelter.

School in Pakistani village
Lack of resources has meant schools have not been rebuilt

The same happened when the NLI was instructed to build schools in the rural areas on an emergency basis.

They lacked the resources but were under pressure to perform. The result in most areas is what we see in this photo on the right.
Local observers say that with the initial shock having worn off and people having come to grips with their losses, they are now certain to start taking a critical look at what was done for them by the authorities and not the NGOs.
And unless the authorities undertake a major rethink of their current strategy, they are unlikely to have answers for the many questions that are bound to be raised against their performance.
Cartoon backlash grounds quake relief helicopters
12/02/2006 - 17:11:10

The United Nations last week temporarily grounded all helicopters involved in earthquake relief work in northern Pakistan due to growing anger over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published in Western media, an official said today.

The helicopters were grounded as a precautionary measure late last week during Ashoura, an important Muslim festival, as sometimes violent protests escalated in the Muslim world, including Pakistan, against the drawings, said Raabya Amjad, a UN spokeswoman in Islamabad.

“For two days, helicopters were not going up due to security concerns ... due to demonstrations against the Danish cartoons in Islamabad,” Amjad said. “There have also been demonstrations ... in the earthquake zone, but nothing against UN personnel.”

Amjad said she wasn’t sure exactly which days the helicopters were grounded.

She said the grounding restricted deliveries of humanitarian aid to the devastated Kashmir region where survivors of the 7.6-magnitude earthquake on October 8 are living in tents and battling a bitterly cold winter. The quake left about 87,000 people dead and around 3.5 million homeless.

The grounding was thoroughly planned and “created no hardship” for the beleaguered survivors, Amjad said.

The UN said in a statement that the grounding affected “some minor aspects of the operation,” but it didn’t elaborate.

The UN has no plans to withdraw personnel of any nationality from Pakistan in response to the demonstrations, the body said in a statement today.

Denmark has warned its citizens to leave Indonesia, Lebanon, Syria and Iran, and has recalled consular staff from Jakarta, Tehran and Damascus.

Amjad said that while the relief operation’s security in Pakistan remained under review, there were no plans to ground the helicopters again.

UN helicopters have become vital for mountainside villages isolated by snow in Pakistan controlled Kashmir. So far they have moved 11,000 tons of food, 3,000 tons of other supplies and nearly 22,000 people, including aid workers and quake victims needing hospital treatment, according to UN figures.

The cartoons – which were first published in a Danish newspaper and have since appeared in media across Europe around the world – have been condemned by Muslims as blasphemous.

About 1,500 protesters gathered in central Islamabad and another 1,000 rallied in the eastern city of Multan to protest the publication of the cartoons. Some torched Danish flags and effigies of Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Protesters also disrupted phone services provided by Norway-based telecommunications company Telenor in the eastern city of Okara by hurling stones at a communications tower there yesterday, police official Mohammed Iqbal said. They also smashed Telenor signs at a bazaar in Okara in retaliation for a Norwegian newspaper publishing the pictures, he said.
Inside PoK


A diary of a 15-day trip through a fascinating but troubled region.

DEVASTATION: Earthquake survivors near Muzaffarabad try to rebuild their lives. Photo: REUTERS

UNDER the new permit system, which allows movement of civilians on both sides of the Line of Control, I am granted permission to travel to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

I have permission for 15 days and my excitement at visiting what was until recently a forbidden land increases when I reach the Mendhar-Tattapani crossing point. Pakistani authorities tell me I am the first Indian reporter to have received permission to cross the LoC.

Journey's beginning

I begin from the Mirpur division, which unlike the northern region is more prosperous and has a kinder climate. Apparently, word of my visit has leaked. To my surprise, a group of people comes to receive me along the LoC. Some more are waiting at my hotel in Kotli town, my first destination, situated along the Poonch. Conversing in Pahari, which is similar to Punjabi, helps me strike an immediate rapport.

After a night's rest, the Gujjar community invites me to Nikiyal tehsil, a hilly pocket of Kotli district. This is the assembly constituency of PoK's Prime Minister, Sikandar Hayat Khan. Palatial houses dot the hills and fairly good roads lead to the villages. Says my host, Chowdhary Bashir, a community leader: "Most of the people have spent Rs.10 million to construct a house here as every family has a relative in Europe."

Migration to Europe has been going on for the last five decades, but many return to build a house here. A local moulvi, Sadaq Hussain, invites me for dinner. Even he seems to have benefited from the diaspora. Over the meal, he tells me that many of the locals settled abroad send their kids to him for short-term religious courses; they pay him what they can.

Mirpur, three hours from Kotli, is my next stop. I have heard of this city since I was a child. My mother hailed from here before migrating to India in 1947. Being here thus has a special significance.

Mirpur has been a politically sensitive place for the Pakistan Government since the construction of Mangla dam on the Jhelum in the 1960s. This caused the submergence of the original Mirpur city, causing the displacement of over 1,00,000 people. Considering the magnitude of the displacement, the rehabilitation measures did not satisfy the affected people.

Local resentment over inadequate compensation or non-payment of royalties to the region remains strong. Now, plans to further raise the dam's height have heightened concerns about the fate of another 8,000 families.

All PoK, like Jammu on India's side of the LoC, witnessed terrible communal rioting in 1947. But signs of a syncretic culture, which held society together for centuries, are visible. I am taken to the old city that was submerged by the dam. Since the level of water is low, the residential area is an island and can be accessed by asteamer.the Remains of the old city reveal an old temple, miraculously intact and a dargah of Pir Mir Shah, where both Muslims and Hindus once prayed.

Says Riaz Inqualibi, a longstanding political activist of Mirpur: "Even when Hindus left this area, nobody dared touch this temple. Even when the dam was constructed, no labourer was willing to demolish the place of worship."

Historical significance

Mirpur has a special place in sub-continent's history. The famous battle between Alexandar and Porus was fought here in 323 BC. There is also the dargah of Mian Mohammad Baksh Sahib, a mystic poet and author of Saifulmalook, a collection of Sufi folk songs popular among both Muslims and Hindus.

I am reminded of an incident in Poonch in 2001 when Lashkar militants from Mirpur kidnapped a Hindu teacher. When the teacher sang songs from Saifulmalook, the militants asked him how he had learnt it. The teacher said that his mother had taught him the songs and the militants freed him.

The sentiment for softer borders is particularly intense in Bhimber, the southernmost tip of PoK, which borders Pakistan's Sialkot district. Barnala is a border town of Bhimber tehsil.

Saeed Assad, a well-known author, invites me for a get-together with the locals. To my astonishment, it turns out to be a big gathering in a packed hall. Speaker after speaker urges me to take back the message that they wanted the routes to be opened. "We want to interact with people across the Line of Control. Besides helping divided families, the peace constituency on both sides of LoC should be strengthened," says Munir Hussian Chowdhary, a lawyer and peace activist.

Zone of tents

The final leg of my journey is to the northern belt of PoK. This gives an insight into the destruction caused by the quake and the relief work being done by various agencies. Bright signposts in yellow and red describe the Jamait-Ul-Dawa's philanthropic work as I enter PoK through the famous Kohala Bridge that adjoins the Hazara district of the North West Frontier Province.

Here, Maharaja Hari Singh, who ruled Kashmir before accession, arrested Jawaharlal Nehru for demanding the end of monarchy and the introduction of democratic rule. Nehru had come as a lawyer in support of Sheikh Abdullah. Muzaffarabad city, including much of the northern belt, has become a zone of tents. Rebuilding houses seems to have barely got under way in many places.

The Jamait-Ul-Dawa, which many consider a front for the Lashkar-e-Taiba, is presently in the forefront carrying out relief operations in Muzaffarabad and the Neelum valley.

Fifteen days is too short a time to understand an area of such complexity. But I leave PoK feeling I am much better informed about this side of the LoC than I ever was. It is much more than a mere terror laboratory. Any solution to the Kashmir problem will hinge on a better understanding of the ground realities in this fascinating region.
Valentine on Quake Victims
Saema Naqvi

The word valentine evokes soft feelings of love and care in our
hearts. Valentines day is celebrated all over the world in which people exchange cards , gifts and flowers with their dear ones.

It is a day to show how much one is dear and near to the other. Feburary is considered as the month of love in many parts of world. Unfortunately at this time this month has come in a very sad atmostpherein Pakistan where the cruel earthquake has ruined millions of people.

The most affected ones are children who have lost their parents siblings homes and schools.The most important deserversof our love, greetings, flowers and gifts at this special valentines day are the children affected by earthquake.

In history,Valentine is a symbol of Love. A love that can change the lives of misserabe and needy people.Most probably the history started in 270A.D. near Rome where St.Valentine was a priest in a church.

Claudius ,the Emperor,while seeing the critical situation, felt that the married defenders of his soil were more emotionally attached to their families and did not perform well,so he banned marriages. Valentine felt the trauma of young lovers and continued to make them marry secretly.Claudius when came to know about this friend of lovers, caged him.

While Valentine was in prison, he came in contact with his jailor who had a blind daughter.The jailor requested him to heal his daughter. Through his faith he restored the sight of jailor's daughter. Just before his execution,Valentine asked for pen and paper and signed a message to her; "From Your Valentine"; a symbol of phrase that remained alive after him in the sence of love and sincerity for others.

Let this time; we turn the Valentines and the handicaped and helpless children of earthquake destruction are the deservers of our physical and phycological support.

According to an estimate,about half of four million people affected by the earthquake are children.They are in physical and phychological trauma.

Even the children who have shifted to tents and hospitals are feeling themselves much lonely and unsecured.

There are 106 children without parents currently in the care of SOS children's villiage.Most of the children in tents and hospitals are frightened and keeping wept all the time.Their schools and books have been destroyed and most of the schools that were not destroyed will likely remain close or disrupted for several days.They need books and teachers to restart their study.

Many children in muzaffarabad and surrounding areas are becoming ill and are suffering from pneumonia and bronchitis.As a result of mostly unhygiene condition,a lot of cases of gastroenteritis has also reported in camps.They need ungent medical care in terms of doctors and medicines.

Earthquake has left many children handicapped .they have lost their limbs , fingers and sight.Many of them still reqire artificial limbs and braces.Over all of this , they require positive support and catharsis to overcome the trauma and shock of being handicaped, shelterless and parentless.

So at this valentine day,people of all the world must consider these children and try to become their valentines.

Every year majority of people celebrate their valentine day by caring their loveones but this is the time to care those who have lost their loveones.

Earthquake is a natural disaster and can struck at any time to any nation so on human basis all the nations of the world and all the people of the nations must help the victims of earthquake and remember them in their happiness like valentine day.

(The writer is a student of medical sciences and compiled this piece with Internet & personal info)●
Tremors rattle already scared Pakistan
Tremors rattle already scared Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Feb 8 (KUNA) - Tremors of moderate intensity Wednesday rattled quake-strewn Pakistan, reviving the memory of Oct. 8 earthquake that kills over 75,000 people, said metrological office.

Tremors with 5.1 magnitude on the Richter scale and epicenter 200 kilometers northeast of Peshawar were felt in the already destroyed northern, northwestern areas and the capital city of Islamabad, said an official at Metrological Department.

The latest tremors, having links with the giant quake of October 8, 2005, did not cause any human or material loss.

On October 8 an earthquake with 7.6 magnitude hit large swath of northern Pakistan, killing as many as over 75,000 people, wounding over 80,000 and rendering homeless to millions of others. (end) amn.
Source: DAWN Group of Newspapers

Date: 13 Feb 2006
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Pakistan: 'Muzaffarabad needs more aid'

By Our Staff Correspondent

MUZAFFARABAD, Feb 13: The administrator of the Municipal Corporation of Muzaffarabad has urged national and international NGOs and UN agencies to shift their focus to the AJK capital and help mitigate sufferings of its residents.

"People of Muzaffarabad are still trying to come to terms with their huge physical and material losses. I have been suggesting at every forum that now NGOs and UN aid agencies should focus their attention on this town and its traumatised residents," said Zahid Amin while talking to a delegation of British aid agency Oxfam which had brought 200 wheel-barrows, 200 shovels and 300 sanitary workers' protective clothes for the civic body.

Mr Amin pointed out that around 40,000 residents of the capital who had moved out of the town after the quake were expected to return by the end of March and their rehabilitation would be another gigantic challenge for the authorities concerned.

"Particularly, removal of debris from downtown Muzaffarabad is a huge task which requires equally huge resources," he said, adding that residents could not erect tents or build temporary shelters on their premises unless the rubble was removed.

Speaking on the occasion, Oxfam official Shafeequr Rehman said his organisation had been helping the corporation in cash and kind and would continue to further strengthen and facilitate it.
Children in PoK orphaned by the earthquake face an uncertain future

Staff Reporter

`There are both social and legal problems for the long-term rehabilitation of the children'

# While some of the children are being looked after by different relief organisations, others are taken care of by relatives
# The number of children orphaned by the quake has far exceeded the resources of the state

UNCERTAIN FUTURE: Children orphaned by the quake which hit Neelum district of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in October. — Photo: Luv Puri

Patika (Neelum): Mevish Mohammad, a three-year-old, has lost both his parents in the earthquake which devastated his hamlet last October. He and two other children were among the lucky ones rescued from the debris after three days by local men in the hilly pocket.

In the remote hilly parts of the quake devastated areas of Pakistan occupied Kashmir, hundreds of children are facing an uncertain future as their parents died in the quake. Many are infants. Sharifa (2) was the lone survivor in her house and at present her neighbour is looking after the child. Some time back the administration had spelt out its policy to establish children's villages in the quake devastated PoK and the North Western Frontier Province. But on the ground, little has changed. While some of the children are being looked after by different relief organisations, others are taken care of by relatives.

It is the long-term rehabilitation of the children, which is worrying the administrators. Massod-ur-Rehman, PoK government official in charge of relief operations, says, "There are both social and legal problems for the long-term rehabilitation of the children. It is a multi dimensional problem. We are still in the process to frame a concrete policy for the children to take care of their future." Immediately after the quake, a ban was imposed on adoption by the State administration. This has far from resolved the issue as the number of children orphaned by the quake has far exceeded the resources of the state and its orphanages such as the Yateem trust have inadequate space.

The locally formed orphanages are filling this vacuum. Mohammad Akhtar, chairman of the Kashmir Orphan Relief Trust running one such orphanage, says, "We brought more than 60 children from remote parts but we have limited man power in the face of such arduous terrain of Neelum district. There are many villages that are isolated where we may not have been able to reach. Certainly the administration has to quickly get into action for helping the kids who have already gone through the worst," he says.
India fire destroys quake relief
A fire at a railway warehouse in the Indian state of Punjab has destroyed millions of dollars of earthquake aid meant for Pakistan, officials say.

No one was injured in the blaze, which has now been brought under control.

The material stored in the warehouse was meant for distribution by Pakistan to victims of the 8 October earthquake.

Pakistan says more than 73,000 people died and millions were made homeless in the earthquake. Another 1,400 died in Indian-administered Kashmir.

The district commissioner of Amritsar, Kirandeep Bhullar, told the BBC that medicines, tarpaulins and about 10,000 truck and tractor tyres were stored in the warehouse when it caught fire.

It is not clear why the relief goods were still in storage so long after the disaster.

Railway officials say the fire was possibly caused by a short-circuit.


The relief material was to have been transported to Pakistan by train - the only rail link between the two countries runs through Punjab.

In November, India and Pakistan opened several points on the Line of Control which divides Kashmir to facilitate the exchange of relief material.

Hundreds of thousands of quake survivors are living in tent camps across Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir in its entirety and have fought two wars over it since independence.
Khaleda meets Musharraf:
End of Conflicts Must for Peace in South Asia
'Pakistan Times' Special Correspondent

ISLAMABAD: President General Pervez Musharraf Tuesday said South Asia must overcome its political conflicts to pave the way for long-cherished progress and prosperity of one fifth of humanity living in the region.

He was speaking to visiting Bangladeshi Prime Minister Khaleda Zia at a meeting here at the Aiwan-e-Sadr.

"The only reason that our region, which has been blessed with hardworking people and natural resources, lags behind other regions is that we have not been able to resolve our bilateral disputes," he stressed, while congratulating Khalida Zia on Bangladesh's assuming the leadership of SAARC.

In this context, the President particularly referred to Pakistan-India relations and said the peace process and rapprochement between the two major SAARC members has opened up a great opportunity for lasting peace and development.

"The two countries should not miss this fleeting moment in the wake of understanding between the leadership and the environment of mutual cooperation in the post-quake scenario and adopt a bold and sincere approach to resolve the protracted Kashmir dispute."

Kashmir Dispute

Continuing, the President said it is the Kashmir dispute, which has hindered the development of the region and added that his proposals of demilitarization and self-governance offer is a way forward for a solution acceptable to all three parties - Pakistan, India and the Kashmiri people.

The two leaders also discussed economic cooperation and political ties and agreed that the enhanced cooperation in various fields will be mutually beneficial.

President Musharraf said Pakistan remains steadfast in its commitment to combating terrorism and assured the Bangladeshi leader of the country's support in fighting the scourge.

He also condemned recent bombings in the Bangladeshi cities.

President Musharraf and Prime Minister Khaleda Zia also discussed bilateral cooperation in the fields of education, industry and agriculture.

They also exchanged views on regional and international issues of common interest.

Expression of Solidarity

The President thanked the visiting leader for Bangladesh's expression of solidarity and its assistance in the wake of last October's devastating earthquake.

The two leaders, who had also met on the margins of OIC Extraordinary Summit at Makkah in December last year, vowed to make the organization an effective vehicle for socio-economic emancipation of the Muslim world.

The Bangladeshi leader thanked the President for Pakistan's support to her country at regional and international fora.

Dhaka, she said, would endeavour to promote regional cooperation in its capacity as chairperson of the South Asian Association for regional Cooperation.

She agreed with the President that peace and development are inter-linked and all members should fulfill their duty towards the objective of collective well being.

President Musharraf said Pakistan supports Bangladesh's commitment to promoting cooperation within SAARC framework.

Later, the President hosted a luncheon for the visiting leader, which was also attended by Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, Chairman Senate, Speaker National Assembly, Cabinet members and services chiefs. •

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