October 2005 News

Indian Kashmir Allowed To Call Pakistan

19 October 2005
Associated Press

Srinagar: One man shared a tearful telephone reunion with a faraway uncle. Another tried desperately to dial his sister. And dozens of others struggled to get through to family across the militarized frontier separating the Indian and Pakistani parts of Kashmir. Amid joyful tears and flashes of frustration, residents of Indian Kashmir on Wednesday made the first phone calls to the Pakistani side of the region in 15 years, desperate to find out what became of family caught in the massive quake that pummeled the divided Himalayan region Oct. 8. 'I am very satisfied that I was able to speak (with my uncle). I have been on tenterhooks all this while,' said Abdul Ghani, tears rolling down his cheeks. Ghani traveled 35 miles from his hometown of Bandipora to phone his uncle in Muzaffarabad, the main city of Pakistani Kashmir, and was overjoyed that there was no bad news at the other end of the line. New Delhi cut communications between its Jammu-Kashmir state and all of Pakistan in 1990 in an effort to blunt an Islamic insurgency there that it charged was being run from Pakistan, an allegation Islamabad denies. Pakistanis could, however, make direct calls to Indian Kashmir. The first phone call Wednesday was placed from a police control room in Srinagar, the summer capital of Indian Kashmir, to the Pakistani city of Muzaffarabad by a family seeking to speak with a relative on the other side of the frontier, said police officer Showkat Malik. Authorities have set up four calling centers which are providing free phone calls, but say the centers will be open for two weeks. Two of the calling centers were set up in the towns of Uri and Tangdhar, the worst-hit in Indian Kashmir, where the 7.6-magnitude quake killed more than 1,300 people. Regional officials in Pakistan said Wednesday that new casualty figures had pushed the death toll to nearly 79,000, although the official government toll still stands at 47,700. The other two calling centers are located in Srinagar and Jammu, the winter capital of Indian Kashmir. The families of many Kashmiris were torn apart when the territory was divided by a cease-fire line following a war between India and Pakistan in 1948. While some callers were overjoyed at the getting to make calls, not all were pleased. After a two-hour wait, Farooq Najar had no luck reaching a sister in Muzaffarabad. 'I tried and tried and tried but could not get through,' said Najar, a resident of Srinagar, whose 19-year-old nephew was killed in the quake. He also believes his sister was injured. 'The official here says that we can only call landline numbers, but I don't have that for my sister, I only have her mobile,' Najar said. Masood-ul-Hassan Kant also tried calling Muzaffarbad, to speak with an uncle, but had no luck. He then tried calling cousins in the Pakistani towns of Muree and Abbotabad, but only got a recorded message saying 'all lines are busy.' Distrust of the Indian government runs deep in Kashmir - where soldiers patrol with weapons at the ready - and some disaffected callers alleged that the new service was a propaganda ploy. 'It is useless! Most of us haven't been able to talk,' said Imtiyaz Ahmad, who along with many other would-be callers left the Srinagar center disappointed. Meanwhile, Indian Kashmir's nonviolent separatists - who had been demanding the restoration of telephone links since the quake - welcomed the move but demanded the phone service be made permanent. 'The government should make this facility permanent and people should be able to call directly from their homes,' said separatist leader Umar Farooq.


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