Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

With Relief Slow to Arrive, Earthquake Death Toll Continues to Rise in Kashmir

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

With Relief Slow to Arrive, Earthquake Death Toll Continues to Rise in Kashmir

Article excerpt

The death toll continues to rise in the earthquake-stricken areas of Pakistan-administered Azad Kashmir, and may soon reach 100,000 as winter sets in. Close to a million people have no shelter or protection from the cold, and cases of pneumonia and hypothermia are increasing by the day. Despite Islamabad's immediate response to the disaster, additional relief has yet to arrive in the affected area of the Himalayan foothills, where the roads have caved in, stranding desperate survivors.

International assistance has been slow in coming and, to date, inadequate. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf called a meeting of the international community at which he appealed to donors to increase their relief efforts. After visiting Pakistan and the quake-ravaged area, U.N. secretary-General Kofi Annan joined Musharraf in drawing the world's attention to the plight of the earthquake victims. While donor fatigue is cited as a reason behind the inadequate international response, others offer a different explanation for such increased suffering in a Third World country. Addressing a Nov. 29 meeting of the Asia Society, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) expressed concern that, while earthquake victims are not receiving sufficient attention, tsunami relief funds lie unused.

Earthquake relief assistance is further mired in regional conflicts, as well as by Pakistan's internal politics. India dragged its feet for more than three weeks before agreeing to open up the five entry points on the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Indian-held from Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. These crossing points are even more significant politically than they are as gateways through which supplies and relief workers can reach the affected areas.

To oversee relief efforts, Musharraf appointed a committee headed by an army major general. As a result, opposition parties boycotted the international conference and are refusing to cooperate with the official relief committee, trying instead to provide relief to the quake victims on their own. This split has created sad barriers to joint relief efforts.

In the midst of all this, Musharraf asked Washington to hold back on the delivery of the F-16 aircraft which Pakistan had ordered so that the money could be channeled toward earthquake relief. Pakistan's opposition parties were unwilling to buy this rationale, however, and were quick to point out that Musharraf s stance on the F16s flies in the face of his reported decision to spend over $2 billion on the construction in Islamabad of a Joint Military Command headquarters (along the lines of the Pentagon).

Using whatever authority he has, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz urged opposition leaders to join the ruling Muslim League party in working out a united action plan in response to the earthquake emergency. Meanwhile, Pakistan's diplomatic missions are busy organizing fund-raising meetings with Pakistanis living overseas. Ambassador to the U.S. Gen. (rtd) Jehangir Karamat visited a local Muslim community center in Virginia to raise funds for the earthquake victims.

The Kashmir Dispute

Unfortunately, the so-called Confidence Building Measures (CBM) between India and Pakistan have not enabled the two neighbors to tackle such serious concerns as the Kashmir question or the dispute over water. New Delhi's only concession to date was the result of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's meeting with the moderate Kashmiri group led by Omar Farooq, after which India agreed to open the LoC entry points to help earthquake victims. …

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