Saturday, 31 May 2008

New role for Quake victims

New role for Quake victims
Dr Shabir Choudhry 20 October 2005

Earthquake which struck in Kashmir and Pakistan on 8th October 05 has brought untold destruction and misery to the people of these areas. Death toll, according to reports could rise to more than hundred thousand with a few hundred thousand injured and more than half million uprooted from their homes. Tragedy within this tragedy is that despite lofty claims of authorities thirteen days after the event still bodies are lying about and injured and starving people are crying for help and shelter.

Government officials, who were not quick to reach out to people, were quick to snub those who claimed that thousands have died; and portrayed this as a small earthquake. One can see their interest why they want to hide the true figure of fatalities, but truth of the matter is that death figures are far higher than what government officials are giving out.

Edhi is respectable name in the field of welfare in Pakistan and Azad Kashmir, and according to their report which, was published in Pakistani papers a few days ago, stated that their volunteers have buried more than fifty thousand bodies in Azad Kashmir alone. Edhi is not the kind of NGO, which will spread rumours to frighten people, and if their claim is true than the government has no estimate about the true extent of the disaster.

It is interesting to note that after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s decision to sack his Commander in Chief, it took the Pakistan army only 35 minutes to topple the civilian government and take control of the country; and yet thirteen days after the disaster it has failed to reach out to twenty percent of the area according to their own figure. If the government says twenty percent then we all know that real figures could be much higher.

Pakistan is a nuclear state with seventh largest army, which makes big claims from to time about its professionalism and efficiency. Army in any country should be the potent force to carry out the rescue missions and maintain law and order, and it is supposed to have its own command and control system in place before it could implement other plans; and in Pakistan we have army running factories and other institutions of the civil society, hence a little time for other activities.

Commenting on governments efforts to help the victims, Imran Khan said, "The government effort has been non-existent….There is no direction to the effort. Ordinary citizens are stuffing their cars and coming here, but the government is nowhere".
Ayaz Mir, famous columnist of English Daily, Dawn, while criticising the response of the army, said, "What they like to say about it is that it is the only functioning institution in the state and when all else fails, it's the army that holds everything together. The one institution which failed above all is the army."

According to some analysts, army’s slow response and negligence, has now provided ‘an opening for hard-line Islamic political parties and their associated social welfare groups, which have quickly and prominently swung into action… As a result of the Pakistani government's failure to get aid to the most remote areas, Kashmiris living in towns such as Bagh have turned for help to the comparatively well-organised Islamic militant groups, officially banned by Musharraf.’ And this according to Western media reports could help ‘Pakistan-based Islamic militants, who spent the past decade fighting Indian rule in the region, have announced a "holy war" to help victims of the earthquake.’

While commenting on this situation, Hassan Rizvi, Political analyst said: "The militants are taking matters into their own hands and winning over members of the public on the ground. Their popularity will soar in these regions as a result and the government will appear directionless. It is a very dangerous situation."

According to foreign aid agencies, including UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, Mr. Jan Egeland, government’s relief operation ‘is a logistical nightmare and in the first phase even the big cities could not be reached'. If people are to live there a few more days in rain and cold without appropriate food and shelter, and injured without any treatment, then fear is that death toll could go beyond anyone’s expectations.

Imtiaz Alam, famous columnist of the News, wrote: ‘What makes things even worse is that those on the helms continue to under-estimate the devastation and, resultantly, the tasks ahead. Why should the international community respond more than what we continue to understate? The administration, which still doesn't have the correct estimate of dead and missing under the rubble of Margalla Tower in Islamabad, continue to understate the casualties and the losses only God knows to what end.’

There is huge shortage of tents in all the affected areas, and all the relief providers and victims are crying out for tents. One wonders what has happened to all the tents. Apart from the civil government stocks, army also has large stocks of tents; of course they go on training schemes and at borders where tents are used. Also these religious parties have very larger gatherings in which up to million people take part and they all live in tents. What has happened to all these tents? Some of these religious parties provide temporary shelter to more than million people who go there for religious training, why can’t they use these tents to provide temporary shelter to victims of the disaster.

According to some reports tents are there, but selfish people with greed are selling them to people at much higher prices. A sad story told by daily Nation, London (Pakistani paper) is that some Pakistan army officers are also involved in money - making business, and they are selling tents that were designated for the victims. A colonel of Pakistan army named Asif, was caught red handed in Rawalpindi as he was selling each tent for five and half thousand rupees. He accepted that he has already sold 400 tents to desperate people trying to help the victims.

That is bad as it is, but what has surprised me is the statement made by General Musharaf. Earlier today he visited affected area of Balakot, where he addressed an audience, which apart from his security men had victims of the quake as well. Someone complained about activities of criminals and thugs looting people, to which General Sahib said: you people should catch the looters and hang them upside down with trees.

With all due respect general Sahib, I thought it was the job of government and police/ army to maintain law and order, and hang criminals if necessary. These traumatised, hungry and uprooted people who might not have had good meal for a number of days are hardly suitable to catch the criminals. Some of these people have lost their love ones and have seen death and destruction everywhere, they need help and need it desperately, please do not give them additional responsibilities to police the area.

Even if they apprehend someone, and hang him upside down with trees, they could be charged by police for taking law in to their hands. It is best that those who are paid to do the job of policing and maintaining law and order should do their job, and if possible help and support these victims of the disaster.

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

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