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Pakistan: Hopes Of 'Earthquake Diplomacy' Crushed As Quake Survivors Await Help

Tens of thousands of people are still waiting for help, three days after the 7.6-magnitude earthquake that devastated Kashmir and northern Pakistan. Authorities have acknowledged difficulties in getting aid to survivors, particularly in remote mountain areas that have been cut off by landslides. Billions of dollars of international aid have begun pouring in to help Pakistan. But politics has blocked a potentially life-saving offer of equipment from neighboring India.

Prague, 11 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- When rival neighbors Greece and Turkey were hit by powerful earthquakes in 1999, politicians in Ankara and Athens immediately sent rescue teams, food, and medicine to assist victims on both sides of the border.

Decades of hostility were put aside. Lives were at stake. “Earthquake diplomacy” was born.

Following the catastrophic tremor that leveled towns and village across divided Kashmir, there were hopes Pakistan and India might also put aside their feelings of distrust to help the victims. But it appears South Asia is not ready for “earthquake diplomacy.”

Pakistan has accepted an Indian shipment of 25 tons of tents, blankets, and medicine. Islamabad sent a similar shipment to the Indian state of Gujarat after an earthquake there in 2001. But New Delhi’s offer of helicopters and rescue teams has been rejected. This comes as Islamabad continues to appeal to other countries for aircraft and crews to deliver food and carry survivors to safety from remote valleys.

M. Ziauddin, an editor of “Dawn,” Pakistan's most widely circulated English-language newspaper, told RFE/RL by telephone from Islamabad today that helicopters remain the only way to reach much of Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

"The roads [to Kashmir] are still clogged. Some smaller roads, narrow roads, have been opened, but you cannot transport food and other special items in a big way there. Helicopters are still in short supply. And helicopters are still being used to rescue people -- the survivors," Ziauddin said.
"Everyone's dead. The children who were in school are still lying around there. I have lost so many people. It's awful." -- local man

Yesterday, a journalist from “Dawn,” reporting from Muzzafarabad -- the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir -- described the situation there as “chaotic.” Thousands of people remained trapped under the city’s ruined main market, university, and several schools and apartment buildings. Many survivors were sleeping out in the open, with no access to food, shelter, or drinking water.

According to Ziauddin, the situation there today has changed little. "It's still chaotic," he said. "It's still chaotic. The people are injured. Dead bodies are all over the city. The prime minister of Pakistani Kashmir himself said that he is the prime minister of a graveyard today."

One local man, speaking to Reuters at a relief camp near Muzzafarabad, confirmed those grim words. "Everyone's dead. The children who were in school are still lying around there," Koja Ghulam Nabi said. "I have lost so many people. It's awful."

Rahul Bedi is the New Delhi correspondent for “Jane’s Defense Weekly,” a leading British defense periodical. He told RFE/RL that Pakistan’s rejection of Indian logistical help is costing lives. Many devastated villages in Pakistan-administered Kashmir are close to the Indian side of the Line of Control and could be easily accessed by Indian rescue teams. But politics has gotten in the way.

"India had also offered help to Pakistan's Kashmir [region], which is more accessible from the Indian side rather than from the Pakistani side because of the geography and the topography of the area," Bedi said. "That request has been turned down. This really makes the whole situation to quite a considerable extent hostage to politics because if there [had been] access from the Indian side, albeit by the military, it may have saved some lives."

But Bedi said that, sadly, the same mentality prevails on both sides, so hopes of a major thaw in relations as a result of “earthquake diplomacy” will have to wait.

"Both sides are equally recalcitrant and adamant on not accepting military aid because the idea of Indian military personnel in uniform crossing over the Line of Control into Pakistan is anathema to Pakistan," Bedi told RFE/RL. "And similarly, Pakistani military personnel crossing over into India -- whether it's in the western state of Gujarat or in Kashmir -- is also anathema to India. So this is a stalemate, and it's not likely to be resolved, which is a tragedy because the people of Kashmir are really the ones who are suffering. And they are the ones who made a plea to both countries to resolve their differences and to work jointly. But that doesn't seem to be happening, and the likelihood of it happening in the next few days or in the next few weeks is even remoter."

Bad weather and sudden rains are hampering ongoing rescue operations in Pakistan's quake-hit areas.

Unofficial estimates put the fatalities at more than 40,000. Officials in Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz’s office have confirmed only 22,488 deaths in northern Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir so far. The official death toll in Indian-administered Kashmir has risen to 1,100 people.

See also:

International Rescue Efforts Continue As Quake's Death Toll Rises