Kashmir border opens for quake families - with a 10-day wait for security checks

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The Independent Online

India and Pakistan's agreement to allow Kashmiris to help their earthquake-affected relatives across the ceasefire line that divides their homeland is the most dramatic opening of the de facto border for decades. But for any Kashmiris who want to take advantage of the opening, it is not quite so simple as it sounds.

Those with relatives on the other side will be allowed to cross on foot at five points on the line of control. But what India and Pakistan are making less noise about is that anyone who wishes to cross will have to submit themselves to rigorous screening by the security services.

The two countries have said they will do their best to speed the process up - shortening it to a wait of 10 days to get approval to cross. This is for Kashmiris who have already been prevented from taking assistance to their relatives by border guards for more than three weeks.

The good news is that aid relief will be allowed through immediately when the line of control opens on 7 November. Many affected areas on the Pakistani side have been cut off from the rest of Pakistan by huge landslides, meaning that the only way to get large quantities of aid through is from the Indian side. For these communities, the opening of the border is a desperately needed lifeline - even if it is coming three weeks too late.

Kashmir has been divided along a ceasefire line between India and Pakistan since 1947. Islamic militants who have infiltrated across the line from the Pakistani side have carried out scores of violent attacks on the Indian side. Ominously, the militants said yesterday that the opening of the border was good news, because it would be easier for them to cross.

Under the agreement, Kashmiris wishing to cross will have to submit to the same vetting process as those who took a landmark bus service between the two sides that started in April. That involves filling out six different application forms, and many of those who applied were rejected as security risks.