Tuesday, November 15, 2005 E-Mail this article to a friend Printer Friendly Version Earthquake has political implications for Musharraf
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: President Pervez Musharraf’s handling of the earthquake, according to a report in the New York Times on Monday, is “particularly delicate,” since not only is the army perceived to have acted late in responding to the disaster, but many in the gravely-affected region of Azad Jammu and Kashmir are bitter about the inadequacy of help getting to them.
The report by two of the newspaper’s correspondents, one who is currently in Pakistan, and the other who is India-based, points out that “in a country with such a long tradition of military rule, it is hardly surprising to see the Pakistan Army dominating every aspect of earthquake relief, from evacuating the wounded and distributing desperately sought-after tents to erecting camps for the displaced. But with that kind of reach comes considerable risk for the army, the country’s most powerful institution, and the head of state, General Musharraf. If relief is not distributed efficiently or fairly - or at least perceived to be - General Musharraf’s government will feel the heat. Already, some of his most vociferous critics have positioned themselves to compete with the army’s relief machinery. The Islamist political party, Jamaat-e-Islami, is feeding, housing and clothing survivors.”
The report quotes one Razia Begum in Bagh, “a heavily militarised town reachable by road since the day after the earthquake” as accusing the soldiers from three military camps, that lie only two miles from her home, of hoarding tents and other aid. “They give it to people who they know,” she said, as her neighbours nodded in agreement. “They don’t give anything to us.”
The report notes that although the Line of Control has been opened at some points “under pressure from Kashmiris,” so far the two governments have barred Kashmiris from stepping across the line. “It is still premature to say whether the Pakistan Army’s handling of earthquake relief will be judged a success or a failure. In some parts of the quake zone, survivors simmer with anger at the army. In others, they are forgiving. Still elsewhere, soldiers and citizens face off in desperation and trauma,” the report points out.
The newspaper writes that in a village in the Allai Valley in northwest Pakistan, nearly three weeks after the quake, “a cranky, dishevelled man hectored the commanding officer in his village for tents and blankets, only to have a soldier wave a stick in his face and order him to leave. The man was defiant. ‘Where do you want me to go?’ he yelled.”
The report maintains that the depth of American support for General Musharraf is also being tested. It compares the US assistance so far offered to Pakistan with what it gave in the wake of the Asian tsunami. While Pakistan has received or will receive $156 million in aid, including military equipment, 24 relief and rescue helicopters and a contingent of 950 soldiers, after the tsunami last year, the United States sent nearly $1 billion in government aid, 16,000 soldiers, 57 helicopters, 42 other aircraft and 25 ships. According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Americans have given $13.1 million in private donations, but they gave 10 times as much for the tsunami - $1.3 billion - and roughly $2 billion for hurricane Katrina. The United States, Europe and other wealthy nations have pledged less than 28 percent of the relief money the United Nations requested, the newspaper points out.
According to the two reporters, “On the ground in the quake zone, there is plenty of gratitude for aid from the United States and other countries that were less than popular among ordinary Pakistanis. But it is General Musharraf’s government - not any foreign nation - that the citizenry will hold responsible. ‘They will blame the government,’ said Rasul Baksh Rais, a professor at Lahore University of Management Sciences in Pakistan. ‘The critical link between these people and aid is the government of Pakistan.’ General Musharraf has appointed military commanders to control virtually every aspect of the aid effort, ensuring that the army will be seen as responsible. The army’s absences have also been noted. On the morning after the quake, as survivors picked with their bare hands through the rubble of a school for girls in Garhi Habibullah, there were no soldiers in sight and there was no hiding the people’s rage. The Army base was an hour’s drive from the village, so why had the soldiers not come to help, they demanded. How many children could have been saved?”
One Mohammed Akram Khan, the father of a dead boy, told the New York Times that if General Musharraf’s child lay under the rubble, army helicopters would be overhead immediately. “Whatever Musharraf is saying, whatever the prime minister is saying - they are lies,” he said. Elsewhere, such absences at times have been met with more resignation than fury, adds the report. In the third week after the quake, a group of men trekked from a marooned village in Neelam Valley to Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. Army helicopters had dropped sacks of aid, the men said, but they had fallen into ravines. Soldiers had evacuated some of the injured by helicopter but left many others. The men showed not anger, but sympathy. The earthquake killed at least 450 soldiers. At another camp, Ghulam Mohiuddin Butt, a civil servant, said of the army, “They have helped us in our hour of need.” The report closed with the observation, “In two weeks, the snow is expected to come with a vengeance, and relief efforts will be frozen in place. So, too, will Pakistani views of their government’s credibility.” http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default...11-2005_pg7_44