MUZAFFARABAD, Oct 18: President Gen Pervez Musharraf said here on Tuesday that Pakistan was ready to open the ceasefire line dividing Kashmir to allow the people from across the Line of Control to come and join aid efforts in the quake-hit region.

India promptly welcomed the offer and said it was ready to facilitate such movements.

President Musharraf, who was talking to media personnel during his visit to the quake-devastated AJK capital, said: “We will allow any amount of people coming across the LoC to meet their relatives and assist with the reconstruction effort.”

He also proposed that the political leaders of both sides should interact to “assist each other with the reconstruction efforts”.

“No formal proposal has been made to New Delhi. It is being put across through you,” Gen Musharraf said, referring to the media.

“The modalities of this need to be worked out... and we expect a response to be forthcoming from the Indian side.”

Defending his government’s refusal to let Indian troops participate in relief efforts on Pakistani soil, President Musharraf reiterated his thanks to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his offers of help.

Pakistan had asked India for helicopters without crew to help with relief operations in a region.

New Delhi refused to accept the condition.

“We have accepted all assistance except military men coming across and one should not grudge that,” Gen Musharraf said. “Other than that we have accepted everything.”

He also said that he wanted mobile telephone companies to open “linkages with their brethren” to let Kashmir’s divided families talk to one another after the quake.

The foreign ministry said separately that mobile telephone service would be extended to Kashmiris living near the heavily-militarized Line of Control.

India on Tuesday also committed itself to letting divided families get in touch. It said Kashmiris on the Indian side could telephone family members on the Pakistani side over the next two weeks.

India usually bans telephone calls, from mobile phones or otherwise, from held Kashmir to Pakistan.

“This facility is being provided as a special case,” an Indian foreign ministry statement said, adding it came “on the directions of” the Indian prime minister.

The state-run department of telecommunications would be setting up phone centres in four earthquake-hit towns in Indian-held Kashmir, the statement said, and would be operational by Wednesday.

Pakistan’s announcement would revive hopes that the tragedy of the quake could at least boost the slow peace process started by Islamabad and New Delhi in January 2004.

The government of Pakistan has accepted three large consignments of quake aid from India — comprising tents, plastic sheets, medicines and food.

INDIAN RESPONSE: India responding to President Musharraf’s offer to allow Kashmiris to cross the LoC, said: “We welcome the offer that has been made. This is in line with India’s advocacy of greater movement across the LoC for relief work and closer people-to-people contacts.”

An Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman said: “India is willing to facilitate such movements but we await word from Pakistan about the practical details of implementing this intention.”

—Agencies

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