ISLAMABAD (AFP) -President Pervez Musharraf has said India”s "donation" to Pakistan”s efforts to recover from last month”s massive earthquake could be a resolution of their bitter dispute over Kashmir.
Musharraf used an international donors” conference called to raise money for the recovery effort after last month”s quake to again urge India to work with Pakistan to resolve their nearly 60-year dispute over the Himalayan territory.
He spoke as 30 Indian Kashmiris were set to cross to the Pakistani side of the divided state to search for surviving relatives of the October 8 disaster.
The quake killed nearly 74,000 people, most of them in Pakistani Kashmir, and about 1,300 in Indian Kashmir.
Its epicentre was in the Pakistani zone of the region, which the nuclear-armed neighbours each hold in part but claim in full. They have fought two of their three wars over the Himalayan territory.
"Let us together solve the Kashmir dispute once for all," Musharraf said in an appeal to the meeting, which included a ministerial-level delegation from India.
"Let this be the Indian donation to Kashmir," he said to applause from the about 300 delegates.
Musharraf convened the meeting to raise 5.2 billion dollars for reconstruction and relief after the quake, which has made around three million people homeless ahead of the Himalayan region”s bitter winter.
The disaster has led the estranged neighbours to open the five border posts on the de facto border in Kashmir, called the Line of Control, but initially only for the exchange of relief goods.
A group of about 30 Indian Kashmiris was set to make a historic crossing to the Pakistani side of the divided state Saturday to search for surviving relatives.
The delay in allowing civilians to traverse the frontier to help relatives and friends, with the suspicious neighbours wanting to vet those allowed to make the crossing, has angered Kashmiris on both sides.
Musharraf said the earthquake had provided a rare "fleeting opportunity" to heal the relationship between the two South Asian nations.
"If leaders fail to grasp fleeting opportunities, they fail their nations and they fail their people.
"Let good and success and let happiness emerge from the ruins of this catastrophe, especially for devastated people of Kashmir," he said.
"I sincerely and genuinely believe that the challenge of this earthquake can be converted into an opportunity of a lifetime that was never available to India and Pakistan to improve its relations," the military leader said.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan made a similar call on Friday, saying the rivals should harness the mood of cooperation forged in the wake of the massive earthquake to achieve lasting peace in Kashmir.
The bitter rivals had acted responsibly by setting aside their animosities to join hands in the massive quake relief effort, said Annan, who also attended the donors” meeting in Islamabad.