- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 25, 2005

NEW DELHI — A plan to ease earthquake relief operations by opening the India-Pakistan de facto border in Kashmir is worrying Indian security officials, who fear that Islamist militants will use the opportunity to infiltrate into India to carry out attacks.

India last week announced a plan to set up relief camps at three points along the Line of Control (LoC), where survivors of the Oct. 8 quake in Pakistani Kashmir could receive medical treatment and aid supplies.

Meanwhile, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf proposed that the LoC be opened at five points in Kashmir, so residents from both sides could “meet each other, share each others’ grief and help each other.”

An Indian delegation is expected in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, Friday to discuss the proposal.

The magnitude 7.6 quake left more than 53,000 people dead and about 3.3 million homeless on the Pakistani side. In addition, 1,300 people were killed on the Indian side.

India announced that relief centers at Kaman, Teethwal and Chakan da Bagh are ready for operation if Pakistan gives the go-ahead. But senior Indian army officials say that allowing free movement of people across the LoC without conventional travel documents could amount to big risks for Indian counterinsurgency forces.

“We are convinced hundreds of Islamic militants are desperately waiting to infiltrate from” Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, said K. Srinivasan, a top intelligence officer of India’s Border Security Force in Kashmir.

He said that militants made at least five attempts to cross into Indian Kashmir since the quake struck and that Indian forces killed 29 of them.

Indian army intelligence estimated that the earthquake killed 700 jihadis. Yet the militants remain active in Kashmir. Even during Ramadan, when Muslims generally shun violence, the militants continued their strikes.

The day after the quake struck, they killed 11 Hindus near Jammu, the winter capital of the Indian part of Kashmir. Last week, they killed a state government minister and a communist leader. Several people were injured when a female suicide bomber blew herself up two weeks ago near an army convoy.

A truce announced by an umbrella organization of Kashmiri militant groups based in Pakistan after the quake went unheeded.

A senior army official in New Delhi said the Indian forces lost some bunkers close to LoC to militant attacks after the quake.

“Given the post-quake situation of sufferings of the people, opening up the LoC is a very good idea in principle. But how we are going to implement it … is the big question now,” the official said.

Another army officer said 25 of the 2,500 Pakistanis who had been given visas to watch cricket matches in India recently did not return.

“What is the guarantee that people will come in from across the border and return this time?” he asked.

Even India’s defense minister, Pranab Mukherjee, seemed to support the view of the worried army officials.

“A moral pressure may force us to open the LoC in this situation. But we shall do it at a great security risk for the country,” he said in Calcutta last week.

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