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India Makes Large Pledge of Earthquake Aid to its Former Enemy


India says it has pledged $25 million in assistance to Pakistan for earthquake relief efforts. This is another incidence of unprecedented cooperation between the two former enemies in the wake of the October 8 quake that devastated the disputed region of Kashmir.

India's foreign ministry spokesman, Navtej Sarna, says the $25 million offered by New Delhi can be used by Pakistan to rebuild homes, rehabilitate people and reconstruct infrastructure destroyed in the earthquake.

He says the offer was made at an emergency United Nations conference held in Geneva on Wednesday to discuss earthquake relief efforts.

India has already sent relief items such as tents, blankets and medicines to Pakistan.

More than 50,000 people died in the quake, which was centered near the line that divides the Pakistani and Indian portions of Kashmir, a region both countries claim as their own. Most of the deaths occurred in Pakistan, where the devastation was far worse than in India.

Officials of the two countries, which have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, are scheduled to meet in Islamabad Saturday, to discuss allowing Kashmiris to cross the normally tightly controlled border more easily.

Last week, Pakistan proposed opening up the border in response to demands from residents who want to visit relatives on the other side and help in reconstruction work, and India agreed.

India says it will offer medical aid to survivors in Pakistan needing help at three relief camps along the disputed border. Pakistan says it wants to open the border at five points.

Independent political analyst Prem Shankar Jha in New Delhi says the disaster offers to the two countries an important opportunity to overcome their historic suspicion of each other.

"Both countries need to develop a certain measure of trust in each other,"said Prem Shankar Jha. "Nothing could be better for generating that trust than to cooperate in relief in a terrible tragedy like this."

Since the quake, both countries have traded offers and counter offers. Some have been accepted, while others, such as an offer for the Indian military to help out in Pakistani Kashmir, have been turned down.

Meanwhile, the United Nations and aid groups continue to warn that many quake survivors are at risk unless shelter and medical help reach them faster.

The World Health Organization says 22 quake victims in Pakistan have died of tetanus infections in recent days.

In a statement Thursday, the British aid agency Oxfam warned that pledges by the international community of $580 million may not help save lives, because much of the money is slated for longer-term reconstruction work.

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