TEETHWAL, India – India and Pakistan opened their disputed border in Kashmir for the first time in 58 years Saturday, a temporary measure to allow divided families to check on each other after the region's devastating earthquake.
Lingering fear and suspicion repeatedly delayed the opening, a landmark event in relations between the nuclear-armed rivals. India and Pakistan have fought two of their three wars over Kashmir, a Himalayan territory split divided between the two but which both claim in its entirety.
Begum Jaan, 82, was the first one to cross, walking with her son across a new footbridge built over the Kishanganga River, which forms the frontier. Pakistani army officers greeted her.
One Pakistani army official said 23 civilians crossed from the Indian side, but none from Pakistan came.
Pakistan gave India a list of 127 people who wanted to visit families and friends, but New Delhi is yet to give permission, the official said on condition of anonymity, which is policy.
S. L. Sreeramulu, an Indian passport officer, confirmed this, telling The Associated Press that security agencies were still verifying the credentials of the Pakistani Kashmiris. However, the clearance was expected soon, he said.
About 300 villagers in Teethwal waved and cheered as their relatives and friends crossed the bridge more than a month after the Oct. 8 earthquake that killed about 87,000 people, most of them in the Pakistani side. Some 3 million people were left homeless.
"I am happy that I am able to go today in spite of the fact that I have lost everything," said Ali Zaman, a 60-year-old retired schoolteacher.
Zaman's home was destroyed in the quake and he now lives in a tent with 14 relatives.
"I am going to see my nieces in Balgran. I have to find out if they have survived," said Zaman, who has never been to Pakistan Kashmir but frequently calls his relatives in Balgran, about 15 miles from the frontier.
No relatives appeared to be waiting on the Pakistani side to greet those coming from Teethwal, a verdant valley surrounded by snow-peaked mountains. Only army and police officers and civil administrators could be seen.
Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, said Saturday the earthquake provided the two countries with "an opportunity of a lifetime" to end their history of hostility.
With peace initiatives easing tensions since last year, India and Pakistan agreed last month as a humanitarian gesture to allow Kashmiris on both sides to meet.
The frontier opening was supposed to happen early this month but was delayed in part by fears that Pakistan-based Kashmiri separatists would take advantage of the opening to penetrate Indian territory.
Thousands of families were separated in 1948, when Kashmir was divided by a cease-fire line, known as the Line of Control, after the first war between the nations. Many have not seen each other in the six decades since.
Khair-ul-Nissa Shah, 62, was traveling to Pakistani Kashmir, also for the first time, to see her two sisters in the village of Parnai.
"I will see who has survived and who has died," said Shah before leaving her partially destroyed home. "There has been no news from them."