- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 19, 2005

TEETHWAL, India — Rivals India and Pakistan opened their frontier in earthquake-hit Kashmir yesterday to allow people to cross on foot for the first time in nearly six decades and search for relatives.

Grandmother Begun Jan became the first of 24 persons to cross from the Indian- to the Pakistan-controlled side of the disputed Himalayan region to search for surviving relatives of the Oct. 8 quake that killed more than 74,000 people.

Cheers rang out as the 80-year-old gingerly crossed a rickety footbridge over a river that marks the de facto border in this part of the divided state that has triggered two of the three wars between India and Pakistan.

The group of two dozen Indian Kashmiris made the historic crossing from Teethwal, about 100 miles northwest of Srinagar, the state’s summer capital.

On the Pakistani side, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan later said that “24 people, including seven women, have crossed over from the Indian-occupied Kashmir.”

They were due to be airlifted today to Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, he said.

Civilian cross-border travel has been banned in Kashmir since war erupted in 1947 between Indian troops and Pakistan-backed tribal fighters following independence from Britain that led to the territory’s division.

“It is a big day for us,” said Tanveer Hussain, whose parents crossed the bridge yesterday in hopes of a reunion with relatives.

“No one has crossed over to the other side from this side since 1947. Everyone is happy as every family has relatives on the other side.”

Ghulam Hussain, 45, who has been living with his family in a tent since the quake destroyed his home, was among those given permission to cross yesterday.

“We have some 500 relatives across there, of whom eight have died in the quake,” he said. “I’ve nothing to carry for them, only prayers and good wishes.”

Until now, India and Pakistan, who are engaged in a peace process to settle their feud over Kashmir, had exchanged relief supplies at five crossings opened since Nov. 7 but had not allowed civilians across.

The move was seen as boosting the peace process between the historic enemies. However, bureaucratic delays in allowing civilians to cross the frontier have angered Kashmiris in the divided region.

Both sides have insisted on vetting all visitors for security purposes. Gen. Sultan said clearance was still awaited from the Indian side for 123 persons from Pakistani Kashmir to cross the frontier.

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