| A man tries to suck out petrol from a vehicle to prevent it from catching fire in Muzaffarabad on Monday. (Reuters)
New Delhi, Oct. 10: For the first time in living memory, India will send relief assistance to Pakistan after Islamabad accepted Delhi’s offer to help meet emergency requirements in the wake of Saturday’s earthquake.
The first consignment, carrying tents, blankets, medicines and food, would leave for Pakistan tomorrow evening after Islamabad informed the Indian authorities where it wanted the relief materials to reach.
An Indian Air Force transport aircraft will carry nearly 25 tonnes to Pakistan.
Islamabad had sent a planeload of relief material after the Gujarat earthquake in 2001.
The decision to despatch relief was taken after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told the Pakistan high commissioner in Delhi this evening that India was more than willing to help in an “hour of crisis”.
Earlier, the Pakistani foreign ministry spokesperson had ruled out joint relief operations in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and elsewhere to help victims of the quake.
India agreed that at the moment there was no possibility of a joint operation, but offered assistance in reaching “inaccessible points” in PoK.
Foreign secretary Shyam Saran said: “There are many points in PoK which are more easily accessible from India than from the Pakistani side. We have offered to send our team of medics and other relief material to help the people in those affected areas.”
There is no formal response from Islamabad to this offer so far, though the Pakistani side has politely mentioned that at the moment they are discouraging teams of experts from outside to participate in the relief operation.
But, breaking from established practice, the two sides have allowed each other’s air force helicopters to fly “very close” to the Line of Control to help the affected families on their respective sides of Kashmir.
“There is a good atmosphere and a very good understanding between the two sides across the LoC,” the foreign secretary said.
Saran had invited Pakistan high commissioner Aziz Ahmed Khan for a meeting in his office this afternoon. Later, the two went to the Prime Minister’s 7 Race Course Road residence.
At the meeting, the Prime Minister asked Khan to convey India’s “profound sympathies” to the government and people of Pakistan at the loss of lives and destruction in the quake.
Singh told Khan that “our hearts go out” to the villages and communities that had been hit by the quake and pointed out that the people of India were greatly moved by the “humanitarian crisis” and “shared the loss with the people of Pakistan”.
Khan told the Prime Minister that Pakistan foreign secretary Riaz Mohammed Khan had informed heads of mission of “friendly countries” at a meeting in Islamabad today of what kind of help the country wanted from them.
Tents, blankets, food and medicines topped the list of requirements.
Soon after, Singh instructed his officials that an Indian Air Force transport plane should be kept ready with relief material for Pakistan.