Srinagar, Asharq Al-Awsat-On October 6, 75-year-old Basti Ram, a Hindu from Jammu and Kashmir boarded the peace bus bound for Pakistani administered Kashmir in order to meet his blood relatives with whom he no longer shared the same faith. His older brother and nephew accompanied him on his trip to meet his now Muslim relatives.
It never occurred to Basti Ram that his birthplace would one day be his final resting place. He died in the devastating South Asia earthquake 24 hours after reaching his ancestral village, while his brother and nephew are said to be in critical condition.
Families in Indian administered Kashmir want the injured to be airlifted, since Pakistani rescue teams have failed to reach the village, 48 hours after the earthquake struck.
According to Jyoti Tandon, whose husband Subash was injured in the earthquake, "It took 55 hours to contact them, because the phone lines were dead. We were eventually able to contact them through a relative in America who called up a contact in Muzaffarabad who told us about this tragedy. We want them back in India, otherwise they will die."
Fifty-eight years ago, the Tandon family had fled the village of Hattian Duppata, 20km away from Muzaffarabad in Pakistani Kashmir during the 1947 partition of India, while many family members were left behind and later embraced Islam.
However, authorities in government say that relief efforts are not straightforward as authorization has to come from Pakistan, which has rejected the Indian offer to hold joint relief operations in the stricken Kashmir region.
Meanwhile, the Indian government has sent the request to Pakistan to airlift the three injured civilians. India awaits a response. "There is no possibility of any joint relief operations on both sides of the Line of Control. It is a crucial decision since it involves Kashmir," says the newly appointed spokesperson for the Pakistani Foreign Office, Tasneem Aslam.
The former Indian Kashmir director general of police, Khajuria said, "It would be a difficult decision for Pakistan to allow Indian authorities to work in Kashmir. Kashmir has been disputed territory between the two countries since 1947, and both have fought in four wars over it. Moreover, India has always staked its claim for the Pakistani side of Kashmir, calling it occupied territory."