NOTE:
You've come to an old part of SW Online. We're still moving this and other older stories into our new format. In the meanwhile, click here to go to the current home page.








VIEWS AND VOICES
Abandoned by Musharraf's regime and wealthy nations alike
Earthquake victims left to die

FAROOQ TARIQ, general secretary of Labour Party Pakistan, wrote this report on the crisis following the devastating earthquake that struck Pakistan on October 8.

EVEN AFTER 17 days following the most disastrous earthquake in Pakistan history, there are areas no one has yet reached to help the victims.

That is mainly true of the Neelum Valley area, close to the so-called Line of Control (LOC) that separates Kashmir into Indian- and Pakistan-held areas. Only helicopters are able to reach the area. The military is the only institution that controls all the helicopters. They simply they do not have the helicopters required to bring relief to all the devastated villages.

How you can help

The Labour Party Pakistan is working in collaboration with the Labour Education Foundation of Pakistan, Women Workers Help Line and National Trade Union Federation to initiate the Labour Relief Campaign and set up relief camps in Lahore and Karachi to help victims in the worst-hit areas. For more information, go to www.laborpakistan.org or e-mail [email protected].
 

On October 25, a two-member team from one private TV channel accompanying a military relief helicopter to the Neelum Valley showed a glimpse of the plight of villagers. The villagers were begging, arguing, fighting, accusing and saying whatever they could to military officers to get some immediate relief to save the lives of their children. One villager said, "Seventeen days gone, we have no team reaching our village. We have buried 80 people from our village, many more are injured, but no help has yet reached the village."

The LOC has been closed by the Indian and Pakistani governments, and no one from any country can cross the line. If the LOC were open, it would have taken few hours for the people of Indian-held Kashmir to bring relief. The Pakistani government finally suggested last week opening the line from five different areas, but the technical side had to be discussed with the Indian government. The line has not yet been opened.

Earlier, Pakistan's military government rejected an offer of the Indian government for the use of Indian helicopters for relief purposes. "It was not in our national interest to accept this offer; it raises the security of the country," said one Pakistani spokesperson while rejecting the offer. Later, the Pakistani military regime offered to accept the Indian helicopters without Indian pilots.

Security is first in the minds of the Pakistani government while, according to the latest official figures, over 53,000 are confirmed dead after the October 8 earthquake. Unofficial figures for the death toll are over 100,000, with more seriously injured.

On October 26, a much-awaited international donor conference was unable to raise the immediate funds needed for relief work. The United Nations recorded $580 million in new aid pledges by so-called donor governments at an emergency conference held in Geneva. On the same day in Washington, the World Bank announced a $470 million "relief package." Reading the details, it is clear that it is not aid, but a loan, on soft terms, to be repaid over 35 years.

There has been a pathetic response by governments of the advanced countries so far. Not even 5 percent of the total needed for relief and rehabilitation work has been pledged or sent to Pakistan. The "friends" of General Musharraf have not been pushed properly by the military government to donate and come to help in this grave situation.

The reason is very simple. The military government's earlier response was to hide the facts. It tried in the initial period to show a minimum loss of lives and property. I heard the core commander of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) say on October 9, "It is the politicians who are making noise of more deaths and losses. I have been touring around the whole day, and the maximum deaths are less than 1,000." This is a province where there are more than 20,000 confirmed deaths, according to official figures.

Oxfam UK issued a warning on October 26 that Pakistan has been abandoned by the industrial states. It noted that America, Japan, Germany and Italy have pledged donations that don't match these countries' financial positions, while France, Belgium, Austria and Finland haven't announced any donations at all. The United Nations asked for $300 million in emergency relief, but only one-third of that has materialized.

The UN economic coordinator for immediate relief in Pakistan, Rashid Kalkof, told reporters in Islamabad on October 23 that we did not expect the disaster on that severe a level, and that is why there was a delay in initial relief activities. He said that, according to initial estimates, over 3 million people have suffered from this catastrophe.

On October 22, the prime minister of Azad Kashmir (the Pakistani-occupied Kashmir) said, "Do not wait for the death of the Kashmiries, send the helicopters now. The world community should not talk but act." This desperation of the hand-picked prime minister of Azad Kashmir shows the real danger to the lives of those effected by the earthquake, who are desperate to get tents before the arrival of the winter in three weeks' time.

Even Musharraf had to admit on October 21 that only $620 million has been pledged, which is very little. According to the government surveys, the total damage may exceed $5 billion. Independent surveys put the total damage at $10 billion.

Already in some areas, snow is coming down, and in other areas, the temperature is near freezing. At present, there are a total of 46 helicopters helping in relief efforts--some 30 of them from the U.S. Army. According to a BBC report on October 23, half of the helicopters are involved in "VIP" activities--meaning the transportation of "very important" persons or security for them.

All the actions of the Musharraf regime show a growing militarization of the relief efforts. The military wants to control all incoming aid and wants to distribute it without civilians involved. Major Gen. Farooq Ahmed Khan has been appointed relief commissioner. Another general has been appointed to head the rehabilitation work. Civilians seem totally outside the network of official channels of relief and rehabilitation work.

Despite the total incapacity of the military regime to provide any effective help in the first three days of the earthquake, the media now says the army is the only savior. Even the main private TV channels are promoting army relief efforts as the only way forward.

During six years of military rule, most civilian institutions have been headed by the army retired or serving officers. Now, the relief and rehabilitation work has taken the same route.

The earthquake has raised issues like occupation of Kashmir by Pakistan and India, and its effect on the people. It has raised the issue of the priorities of the Pakistani state, which has been busy arming itself while totally neglecting the defense of civilians in disasters like this one. The loss of life would have been reduced to a large extent if the state would have prepared for such a disaster. But the social priorities of the people are the last words in the dictionary of the ruling classes of Pakistan.

The national assembly of Pakistan has passed a resolution that debts of people in the affected areas should be cancelled. This was also the demand of members of the NWFP assembly. This is related to the demand of Labour Party Pakistan to cancel unjust debts in Pakistan.

Pakistan owes $34 billion in foreign loans. It spends nearly $5 billion annually toward repayments of the debt. This is the largest part of the national budget. If only one year's repayment is not made, this could cover the total damage, according to the official figures. The irony of the matter is that the International Monetary Fund has announced not aid, but a loan, even on this tragic occasion.

In contrast to the government response, there has been an unprecedented people's response, not only in Pakistan, but internationally, particularly in countries that have a large Pakistani immigrant populations.

According to one survey, 10 billion rupees ($200 million) in donations have been sent to the affected areas. The Labour Relief Campaign, in its first four days of public campouts in the city of Lahore, raised over 250,000 rupees in cash and over 2 million rupees worth of goods from ordinary passersby. There have been cases all over affected areas in Kashmir and the NWFP where the first aid came from the people, not from the state.

Social movements internationally should take up the question of earthquake relief on an urgent basis. They should urge governments in the advanced countries to do more than what they have done so far. We have to take the question to the labor movement, and to help Kashmir and Pakistani workers and peasants who have lost everything.

This response has to come on urgent basis. More effective measures have to be taken to collect funds for those affected--not only for immediate relief, but also for rehabilitation work.

Home page | Current storylist | Back to the top