- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2001

The arrival in India yesterday of a planeload of earthquake relief supplies from Pakistan was intended as an olive branch in the hope of improving relations, Pakistani officials said.

Indian officials, while welcoming the 200 tents and 2,000 blankets that arrived aboard a C-130 military transport in Ahmedabad yesterday, replied that any improvement in relations still would depend on an end to the violence in Kashmir.

"It is our intention to send a signal that it is time for improving our relations," said Zamir Akram, deputy chief of mission at the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, of the relief flight for victims of Friday's earthquake, which killed an estimated 20,000 people.

"We certainly hope this will help," Mr. Akram said. "This is the first time we are sending such aid to India" since hundreds of Indian troops died fighting Pakistani-backed militants and troops at Kargil in Kashmir in 1999.

The plane loaded with relief supplies is the first of three and others may be sent later if there is need for them, Mr. Akram said.

However, the Indian ambassador to Washington, Naresh Chandra, said relations between the two South Asian nuclear powers cannot improve until Pakistan stops allowing armed militants to cross from Pakistan into Indian-held Kashmir.

"Helpful gestures are always helpful," said Mr. Chandra. "Anything seen in a positive light will have impact [on Indo-Pakistani relations].

"But we need to be realistic and cautious optimists while we try to improve the situation.

"Problems remain on the failure to check cross-border terrorism. We hope conditions will improve, which will lead to the setting up of an environment conducive to resumption of talks," Mr. Chandra said. "We are accepting relief and material which could be helpful from all friendly countries, including Pakistan."

The Indian defense minister said yesterday the death toll from the quake could reach 100,000. The U.S. Geological Survey measured the temblor at 7.9 on the Richter scale.

Other officials put the death toll in the 15,000-20,000 range, still the worst in decades.

Aid from around the world was pouring into western India, including a Boeing 747 loaded with water-purification equipment from the United States, part of $5 million in aid pledged. Much of the aid was heading to the hardest-hit city, Bhuj.

The International Red Cross yesterday started a massive relief operation and appealed for $15.8 million in aid. The U.N. Children's Fund said it would provide at least $8 million immediately.

The earthquake, which devastated Gujarat state, offered an opportunity for Pakistan to make a gesture similar to that made by Greece when it offered its arch-rival Turkey aid after an earthquake there last year. That led Turkey to offer aid to Greek victims of a later earthquake and led to a thaw in relations.

However, Mr. Chandra said that the situation was quite different between India and Pakistan which have fought three wars since they were carved out of British India in 1947.

Pakistan insists India allow the mainly Muslim residents of Indian-held Kashmir to vote on which country they should join. India refuses to hold such a vote, and it accuses Pakistan of allowing thousands of Islamic militants to mount guerrilla warfare that has killed more than 30,000 people since 1990.

Mr. Akram denied the Indian accusations that Pakistan allows cross-border terrorism.

"We have always denied there is any cross-border infiltration," he said.

"We have offered to allow India to set up a monitoring mechanism along the Line of Control [separating Indian and Pakistani portions of Kashmir]. The real need is for India to cease repression in Kashmir in order to restore calm and normalcy."

Mr. Akram said Pakistan "does not have a problem with the people of India. We are willing to help them in any way we can."

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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