Hotline goes cold as Pak cagey on help

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  • Published 9.10.05

New Delhi, Oct. 9: The hotline between India and Pakistan has remained idle since Saturday’s conversation between the foreign secretaries. Not a single call was made from Islamabad to Delhi today, either to receive or offer earthquake relief.

President Pervez Musharraf later told CNN that Pakistan was “looking at” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s offer of assistance but had to carefully work out what it needed from New Delhi because of the “sensitivity” involved.

“We need to work out what we would like to have from them. You do understand there is a little bit of sensitivity there. But I expressed my gratitude and we will work (it) out; whatever we need from them we will certainly ask.”

Asked if he was concerned that during the relief efforts, misunderstandings might arise between the two armies, which had fought two wars in the past, Musharraf said: “No, there is no misunderstanding there.

“You are right, we fought wars. At this moment, we should not be discussing about wars we fought. But the sensitivity I spoke of arises exactly because of whatever you said.”

One reason for Pakistan’s cautious approach towards the Indian offer could be that the earthquake’s epicentre lay in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). The peace process may be on, but Islamabad obviously feels it isn’t time yet to allow Indian relief experts to get to work in Muzaffarabad and other areas of PoK.

The Pakistani leadership, which received teams of experts from Turkey, Britain and China today, also appears to be unsure how much India can help. “We are not sure whether any country in South Asia has the kind of expertise required to deal with such a situation,” a Pakistani official said in private.

Musharraf, however, appreciated Manmohan Singh’s gesture. “It is very kind of him he sympathised and condoled with the losses we had (suffered). He had offered assistance,” the General told CNN.

Soon after reports began emerging yesterday about how badly Pakistan had been hit, foreign secretary Shyam Saran activated the hotline to speak to his opposite number, Riaz Mohammed Khan, and offer India’s help.

Later in the day, the Prime Minister and external affairs minister Natwar Singh spoke to Musharraf and foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri, respectively, to convey condolences and repeat the offer made by Saran.

The Prime Minister called up Musharraf late in the evening and the two leaders spoke about the earthquake. Though the extent of damage and loss of life has been much greater in Pakistan, Musharraf responded to Singh’s gesture by making a similar offer to India.

Indian officials skirted questions on whether Delhi was looking forward to any help from Islamabad.

Though India has not officially declined aid offers from Pakistan or other countries so far, it seems unlikely that the government would accept any at this juncture. “We can only say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ once we know what is on offer,” a senior official in South Block said.

During the relief operations after last December’s tsunami, India had turned down all offers of help from outside. Instead, it sent its naval and air forces to help affected countries like Sri Lanka, Maldives, Thailand and Indonesia.