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Line of Control Opened for Earthquake Relief

November 8, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


JONATHAN MILLER: Jolted into a new reality by an earthquake, nuclear neighbors make historic human contact in a valley divided by a line on a map for nearly 60 years. Just after the morning call to pray had ended, the preparations for the big day started.

For decades, this — the front line — scene of two wars and countless deadly battles, Jihadi insurgents tried to cross this river into India and died. Slowly throughout the morning, journalists edged every closer to the barbed wire enclosure in the valley floor below, and a three-inch-wide strip of white plastic laid across the fresh cleared mine field, the line that no one’s been allowed to cross since 1947.

High above, Indian soldiers manning mortars watched us, doubtless dumbstruck as journalists from both sides reveled in the moment — Indians and Pakistanis embracing, swapping news and numbers, interviewing each other — talking earthquake politics.

P. V. DEWAN, Indian Kashmiri Times: The happiest day of my life. I would like to go there. I want them to be here with us. I want to see their children, I want to see their schools, I want to see their colleges. Unfortunately, this earthquake, it has given a lot of problems for them. I would like to know from them how much loss they have suffered. Anything we can do for them. They are our brothers.

SPOKESMAN: Gentlemen, please listen to me. Electronic media. We have agreed upon the respect that this white line will not be crossed by media people also, so please let’s keep our words and help us in keeping our words, keep to your side of the line of control.

JONATHAN MILLER: One foot in India, one foot in Pakistan. This, the line of control — it has gone from being one of the most- controlled boarders in the world to one of the most chaotic. This morning journalists were mixing across the line; we’ve just been separated there by the Indian commander who said we didn’t want to start another war. How’s it going in India?

On the Pakistan side crowds building Kashmiris desperate to see any family divided by the line now united by the quake in suffering and bereavement; they’re kept well back. Inside the enclosure they did the handshakes and organized the aid swap — 21 trucks from India carrying tents and rice and medicine unloaded into Pakistani trucks, one token truck from Pakistan.

Outside the enclosure the onlookers not happy, the crowd now moving closer, the mood edgy.

MAN: We want to meet our relatives. And this is not the proper way we are not in a position to go there. We waited half a century, we are waiting for close relatives. This is just like a drama. The worlds to say that Kashmiris are going to here and there — they say only drama — we can go there and meet with the villagers.

JONATHAN MILLER: They are chanting “We want independence, we want freedom from Pakistan and India.” Sick of war — weary from years of shelling and now an earthquake. It was then that the Pakistani police just lost their nerve.

They’re firing battle rounds into the air to try to clear the crowd here! This is exactly what they didn’t want to happen. These people have been standing, watching this going on all day, they’ve had enough. They want to be able to go across the border.

In India, deep suspicion of Kashmiri separatist sentiment — 1,500 killed across the frontier so far this year, nearly as many as the earthquake killed in 20 years of war. Not one Kashmiri civilian crossed the line. It was supposed to be a symbolic day, but these images a very different sort of symbol for both sides to digest, the symbol of divided rested region politically unready for what humanity demands.