Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Earthquake and game plan of military junta

Earthquake and game plan of military junta
Dr Shabir Choudhry 13 October 2005

No doubt it was a natural disaster, but it was made worse by those who rule us and control us; and often claim to have monopoly over wisdom and loyalty in that part of the world. In view of one Pakistani commentator, hitherto their biggest contribution to the state of Pakistan is frequent invasion of its capitol, and they are so good at it that they do it without any bloodshed.

One wonders why the army and other government agencies failed to reach out to the suffering people? Why Pakistan government refused to accept help from India when it could have helped to save thousands of lives? Is the government trying to cover up something? What happened to Mujahideen training camps and where are those mujahideens?

I spoke to one of my contacts in Bagh today at 3pm British time (7pm in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan), and he said that to date he has not seen any Government or any other help in his area. He was furious, and he had every right to be. Twenty members of his family perished in this tragedy. His parents and other members of the family were injured and lying in open fields with no help and no food.

When I talked to him he was on his way back to Bagh from Rawalpindi where he went to buy tents, medicine and white cloth (Kafin) for burial etc. His anger was fuelled by his failure to get any tents and cloth etc because there were none available in Rawalpindi. He said ‘Shabir Sahib, please send us some tents, it is raining here and my family and thousands of other people are out in fields without any shelter.’

There are many who immediately come to defend the government and say that roads are blocked and that scale of the disaster is so great that the both governments could not cope with it. This is not true. This man travelled from Bagh to Rawlapindi on road to buy necessary items, and he had no helicopter to take him (many helicopters are still busy on duty in Wazirstan and taking VIPs from one place to another that they can have photo sessions while giving out help).

Point to be noted here is that this conversation took place on Thursday 13th, and that is six days after the earthquake; and a military government which makes lofty claims and has a large army and two third of Pakistani nations budget at its disposal cannot even reach out to the suffering people six days after the event.

A prominent Pakistani columnist, Imtiaz Alam, while criticising the government said: ‘A state that failed to mobilize its over-pampered machinery to rescue its citizens in their time of distress is not, perhaps capable to even estimate the depth and breath of the destruction.’ He further says that state authorities are more ‘attuned to killing, not rescuing’.

I disagree with all those who say that the governments of Azad Kashmir and Pakistan were not fully aware of the tragedy. Azad Kashmir is in total control of Pakistan army since 1947, and they know ever village and hill top in that area. It is wrong to assume that they didn’t know which areas were affected. Pakistan has a large army presence in all parts of Azad Kashmir, and their own network, although affected but it was operational. Did they not inform the government or their superiors in Islamabad what had happened?

I prove this point with an example. My distant cousin died in this tragedy and his dead body was brought to his home village in Bhimber on the second day of the incident by the army. Those who brought the body were polite and helpful, they dug grave themselves and within hours left by saying that they have to take more bodies to other places.

The army men were able to find dead body of this man, locate his home village and brought his body to his parents. This special treatment was given to him because he was an army man himself, otherwise there were thousands of other dead bodies lying about and children trapped under rubble crying for help; but they were left there to face slow and painful death.

One wonders why such a big army, full of resources could not reach out to save lives, and why the Indian offer of help was refused which could have saved hundreds of lives; and could also have boosted confidence between both governments. Answer to this is simple if we take militant camps in to equation.

Despite all the claims of dismantling mujahideen training camps, open secret was that they were fully operational, and had more than three thousand militants from various nationalities. These camps were located in various places in Azad Kashmir and in areas of Balakot and Mansehra.

Unlike what happens in this part of the world the natural tragedy when it struck, didn’t distinguish between a man with gun and a civilian. They, like other civilians, were either killed, injured or were under the rubble. At last, to relief of some, camps were dismantled by force of nature.

A well - placed source told me that the government could not have allowed any foreign aid agency or camera crew to venture in to those areas because of fear that they might see these mujahideens either dead or alive or even their bodies emerging out of rubbles. What explanation could the government give if some mujahideen from Bangladesh, Sudan, Algeria and Egypt etc are seen? This could have been very embarrassing for the military government of General Musharaf who on more than one occasion claimed that there were no camps there.

Authorities needed time to ‘ clear and control’ the situation, so hurriedly a strategy was made to keep the media people away from these areas, and for two and half days a focus of attention for media and the entire world was the Margalla Tower. No disrespect to those who lost their lives and suffered under the rubble of Margalla Tower, Pakistani government made it appear as if ‘Twin Towers’ have fallen, or Minar e Pakistan or Tomb of Mohammed Ali Jinnag has fallen. This loss, sad as it is, is very small when compared to the loss of more than fifty thousand lives in Azad Kashmir.

In view of the above scenario one can understand why the government refused to accept Indian help. They could not have allowed Indian helicopters to cross the LOC even to drop humanitarian aid, just in case they see these mujahideens or dismantled camps. And those who claim that the government didn’t want the Indian military men to see what defence arrangements were there in Azad Kashmir, and that is why they refused to allow them; and that it was done with a national interest in mind are totally wrong. Who will believe that in 21st century with satellite above our sky and with AWCS planes at India’s disposal they didn’t know what was there in Azad Kashmir.

That aside what has hurt us Kashmiris is the news that Indian military men were allowed to cross the LOC to help and save lives of Pakistani soldiers who were trapped because of the quake; but they were not allowed to cross the LOC with medicine, blankets and tents which could have saved lives of hundreds of suffering Kashmiris.

According to reports Indian army could see innocent civilians trapped and crying out for help, and it was easy for them to reach out to these people from the Indian side of the LOC, but the government of Pakistan and its military apparatus had other priorities. A life of a Kashmiri has a little value to our occupiers no matter which side of the divide he lives on. Both governments have ‘national interest’ in mind and are at liberty to experiment with lives and future of Kashmiris.

A cyclone in East Pakistan in 1970, and a response of Pakistan’s military government of the time, made people of East Pakistan realise that rulers in Islamabad had very little love and affection for them, and that expedited the separation of East Pakistan. The present tragedy has also opened eyes of Kashmiris, and it has brought our most cherished independence a step nearer, albeit at a very heavy cost.

But I salute ordinary people of Pakistan who cry out on our suffering and have gone out of way to help suffering people in Azad Kashmir and Pakistan. I cannot forget words of Dr Shahid Masood, presenter of Views and news on ARY digital and Dr Aamir Liaquat Hussain, presenter Aalim on line on Geo TV.

Writer is a Chairman of Diplomatic Committee of JKLF and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs. Email:

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