RAWALPINDI, Pakistan (AP) – U.S. Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, flew over the destruction in Pakistani Kashmir on Sunday, pledging the United States would send more helicopters and keep up relief efforts for the “long term.”

In a bizarre twist, al-Qaida’s deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri called on Muslims to send aid to quake victims, despite Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s cooperation with the United States in the fight against terrorism.

Meanwhile, Pakistan and India inched closer to a deal that would see the nuclear rivals put aside their long-standing dispute over the Kashmir region for the sake of quake victims, allowing them to cross the disputed frontier.

An aftershock Sunday – one of hundreds since the initial Oct. 8 temblor – killed five people in Afghanistan’s eastern Zabul province near the Pakistan border. No deaths were reported in Kashmir.

A 6.0-magnitude quake – one of the strongest so far – later struck Pakistan’s quake region, but there were no reports of deaths or injuries.

Abizaid said he “saw devastation everywhere” during an aerial tour of the region. He promised 11 more Chinook helicopters would soon arrive to bolster relief efforts that already include 17 American helicopters and the U.S. Army’s only Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.

“I think the most important thing we can do is, by our own example, show the rest of the world that there’s a lot more work that needs to be done,” he told reporters at the Pakistani air base in Rawalpindi, outside Islamabad.

“It’s not something that can just be forgotten, it can’t be the five-second sound bite that we’re all so used to, it has to be a long term effort to help a lot of people,” he added.

The U.S. mission in neighboring Afghanistan, which falls under Abizaid’s command, was recently criticized for an incident in which American troops allegedly burned the remains of two slain Taliban fighters – a desecration under Islam – and used the scene for propaganda purposes.

Abizaid said he hoped the Islamic world would look to the relief mission in Pakistan for its impression of the U.S.

“The response of the United States of America is really the face of the United States of America that everybody should pay attention to,” he said. “Mistakes always happen on every battlefield but this is no mistake, we’re here to help, and we’re here to help not because of the war but because people need help.”

Strangely, al-Qaida echoed U.S. general’s call for more aid.

“You should send as much aid as you can to the victims, regardless of Musharraf’s relations with the Americans,” said Osama bin Laden’s deputy, Egyptian surgeon al-Zawahri, in a videotape broadcast on Al-Jazeera television.

Neither Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry nor Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed would comment on al-Qaida’s appeal.

The 7.6-magnitude Oct. 8 earthquake was believed to have killed at least 79,000 people, mostly in Pakistan’s portion of Kashmir and destroyed the homes of more than 3 million people.

With winter looming, 800,000 of those people still have no shelter, said Rashid Kalikov, U.N. coordinator for humanitarian assistance in Muzaffarabad.

India has provided tons of relief goods to its northern neighbor and traditional rival, but has moved ahead cautiously with proposals from Pakistan that Kashmiris be allowed to travel between the two nations’ zones in Kashmir. Both countries claim the zone in its entirety and have fought two of their three wars over it.

Opening the border is particularly sensitive for New Delhi, which has fenced and fortified the so-called Line of Control to prevent infiltration by Islamic militants who fight Indian security forces, seeking Kashmir’s independence or merger with Pakistan.

India has instead proposed opening three aid camps for Pakistani quake victims on its side. But Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Navtej Sarna said Islamabad’s suggestions might be reconciled with India’s.

Pakistan’s top relief official, Maj. Gen. Farooq Ahmed Khan, said Sunday the official quake death toll stood at 53,000, with another 75,000 injured. Figures from the central government have lagged behind those from regional authorities.

Figures from officials in the North West Frontier Province and Pakistan’s part of Kashmir put the toll at about 78,000. India has reported 1,360 deaths in its part of Kashmir.

AP-ES-10-23-05 1757EDT

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