NEW DELHI (AP) – India and Pakistan set aside their often-bitter rivalry Monday when Islamabad accepted an offer of aid for earthquake victims – an outpouring of sympathy with vast political implications in easing mistrust between the nuclear neighbors.

India is dispatching a planeload of about 25 tons of food, tents, medicine and other supplies for possible delivery by today.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Khursheed Kasuri said there was no problem accepting aid from its rival.

“When it is a question of tragedy of this magnitude, it’s not a question of one-upmanship,” Kasuri said in an interview with India’s New Delhi Television. “That is why the president of Pakistan has gone on record as having said that we aren’t going to stand on ceremony.”

India and Pakistan are but the latest countries to smooth over differences, taking diplomacy to another level when faced with disaster.

Efforts to end nearly three decades of conflict in Indonesia’s Aceh province picked up steam after the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami struck, killing 131,000 people in the area. Neither the government nor the rebels wanted to add to the suffering or to hold up the flow of aid to victims.

A devastating earthquake in Turkey in August 1999 that killed about 17,000 people led to an outpouring of sympathy and aid from its traditional rival Greece. The Greek government sent help to its neighbor, including rescue crews with sniffer dogs, while ordinary Greeks lined up to donate blood.

When Athens suffered its own deadly quake a month later, leaving more than 100 dead, Turkey also sent aid and rescue crews.

The sudden and unexpected public sympathy helped to shatter decades of frozen relations between two NATO allies that had nearly gone to war three times since 1974 over territorial disputes, the last of the three times just three years before the quakes.

In December 1999, three months after the Greek earthquake, as part of what became known as “earthquake diplomacy” Greece lifted its objections to Turkey’s joining the European Union. By 2005, Greece had become Turkey’s biggest supporter for membership.

In Islamabad, Tasnim Aslam, a spokeswoman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, said Pakistan hoped the aid would come soon.

“Our high commissioner in India has informed Indian authorities what we need for the victims of earthquake,” she told The Associated Press.

However, Pakistan earlier declined an offer of Indian helicopters to help distribute aid and has ruled out a joint rescue operation along the frontier dividing the disputed Himalayan territory of Kashmir, which was hard-hit in the disaster.

Besides its humanitarian value, Indian aid could ease tensions between the two neighbors who have fought three wars, two of them over Kashmir.

While both sides have taken several steps since in recent months to improve relations, a new thaw began soon after Saturday’s earthquake, when the Indian prime minister called Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and offered humanitarian help.

Musharraf made a similar offer for the victims of the quake in the Indian portion of Kashmir, where more than 800 people died. In comparison, at least 20,000 people died in Pakistan.

Pakistan sent two planeloads of relief material to India to help victims of a 7.7 magnitude earthquake that hit the western state of Gujarat in January 2001.

AP-ES-10-10-05 1822EDT


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