KARACHI, Oct 30: Leader of the opposition in the Azad Kashmir Assembly Sultan Mehmoud Chaudhry has stated that in this transition phase, quake victims immediately required tin sheets to raise temporary shelters for the surviving members of their families in the wake of snowfall and harsh winter.

He pointed out that the tents being used for the purpose at present would lose their utility in the next two weeks or so.

Mr Mehmoud, who is also leader of the PPP Azad Kashmir, was addressing a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Sunday. He referred to the massive devastation across Azad Kashmir and parts of the NWFP and said that the October 8 quake had, according to an estimate, left about 100,000 people dead and another 2.5 million injured.

He urged the Pakistan government to withdraw sales tax on construction material, particularly tin sheets and supporting material, to facilitate construction of temporary shelters in the quake-hit areas.

He said that the tin sheet, available in local market at a rate of Rs300-400 400 per sheet, could be imported from India or China at a cost of Rs150-200 per sheet.

Sultan Chaudhry pointed out that after the first phase of relief and rescue operations, the transition phase was under way which would be followed by the third phase of long term reconstruction and rehabilitation and this would be started with the funds coming from abroad – the OIC, European and other countries. However, he added, for immediate relief to survivors, the government should write off the loans taken by the affected people from cooperative banks and other financial institutions, including the House Building Finance Corporation.

He also urged the government to exempt all Kashmiri students studying in educational institutions of Pakistan from tuition fee and boarding charges so that they could continue their studies.

The AJK opposition leader appealed for extending loan facility to quake victims to enable them to their business.

About the affected families moved to different cities from the quake-hit areas, he said they should be given subsistence allowance for the next six months.

Sultan Chaudhry hailed the decision of opening five points along the LoC and termed the move ‘a step in the right direction’. He said it was a longstanding demand of Kashmiris that the entire Line of Control be opened as it would help find a peaceful solution to the Kashmir issue.

He said that the October 8 quake, which was more devastating than the recent tsunami in the region, had not only caused widespread destruction in Azad Kashmir but the entire Jammu and Kashmir territory.

He welcomed the visit by Hurriyat leader Yasin Malik as every encouraging, and said he himself intended to visit occupied Kashmir along with relief goods for the victims of the quake. He hoped that his visit would be taken as a purely humanitarian gesture and the Indian government would not create any hurdle in this regard.

In reply to a question, he said that the real stake-holders in the Kashmir issue were people of Kashmir and until and unless they were not be involved in the negotiations, there could be no progress in finding a solution to the issue. He hoped that Kashmir leaders would also be invited in the next round the talks.

Responding to another question, he said many quake-hit areas had not so far received relief because of logistic problems.

The only way to reach the inaccessible areas was helicopters which appeared to be inadequate in number. Despite innumerable sorties, it proved possible to cover all the affected areas where people were stranded in the valleys cut off by landslides and collapse of road networks, he said.

To another question he said that as there was a big change in international politics after 9/11 tragedy, likewise the Oct 8th quake had brought a lot of changes in the life and perception of people of Kashmir.

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