WASHINGTON DC, Oct 11, 2005 | ISSN: 1684-2057 | www.satribune.com

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A victims waits for help outside her devastated home. Below A collapsed high rise

Victims of the Deadly Quake Should Not Become Cash Cows For Usurpers

By Dr. Tarique Niazi

WISCONSIN, October 11: It is heart-breaking to watch television images of the death and destruction wrought in Pakistan by an earthquake the intensity of which beggars parallel in the past 100 years. Measured 7.6 at the Richter scale, its destructive outcome is not hard to imagine. Within 24 hours of its strike on October 8, the death toll has already run into thousands.

What packed it with even a deadlier punch was its “shallowness,” i.e., its ground motions were closer to the surface, which pulled down high-rise structures and mud-house villages with equal ease. Geologists believe that deeper sub-surface tremors would have been less lethal and had even less fatal impact on surface objects and surface life.

Unlike in the past, this earthquake’s geological sweep was felt throughout the length and breadth of Pakistan, and beyond to neighboring Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and India. Yet the major brunt of it was borne by northern Pakistan that sits closer to its epicenter. The worst-hit, thus far, is Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir where 200 Pakistani soldiers stationed there have also been reported dead.

It is still too early to assess the full extent of the devastation, especially in many parts of northern Pakistan, such as Batagram, Balakot, Mansehra, Abbotabad, and Pattan. These areas have been geographically susceptible to earthquakes. In the 1970s, the whole of Bhisham in Kohistan was razed to rubble, which is Pakistan’s Alaska. The sun sets on it as early as 3 in the afternoon. Yet its natural endowment makes it “mark of beauty.” The late Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto picked up its pieces and remade it into a crown jewel to behold.

Like Bhisham, many parts of northern Pakistan are inaccessible or hard to access by land. Road and rail links fluctuate between “to be and not to be.” Where there are roads, they stand there as an apology for their existence. This inaccessibility, especially for the relief and recovery effort, will cause even more death and destruction than what is known as of now.

Even a bigger challenge to rescuers is the “law-and-order” orientation of the Pakistani State that singularly serves the ends of its abusive dictators, directing all its resources against “political crime,” i.e., democratic opposition. As such State institutions are in the business of savaging, not saving lives. It is, however, the communitarian resources in extended families, tribal formations, and inter-tribal alliances, which provide much-needed succor to those in need.

Urban-based civil society organization (CSOs) could become a modern agent of national relief, but their resources are already stretched to limits in combating “unnatural disasters,” i.e., military dictatorship and its economic, political, and social impact. Some of the private-sector relief groups, such as the Edhi Welfare Trust, are too urbanized in their relief operations to work in the trying semi-and-non-urban settings of land-slide-prone Pakistani-administered Jammu and Kashmir and northern Pakistan.

The law-and-order orientation of the State, to the criminal neglect of mass welfare, has grown manifold on Gen. Musharraf’s watch, who for the past six years has been squandering the national resources on buying “legitimacy” for his illegitimate government. Even just two days before the earthquake struck, he was busy bullying and bribing voters to elect his nominees to city halls, town houses, and village councils.

The lowest bid for a mayoral seat was 25 million rupees in a country where the average monthly wages of a full-time worker, who traditionally provides for a family of five, is 2,500 rupees ($1.38 a day)! It is these families who will have been buried alive without even hearing the sound of “help is on the way.” Just in one town of Pakhtunkhaw, 400 children had died under the collapsed detritus of their school building.

All State resources are committed to keep Gen. Musharraf and his illegitimate government in power. His power grab costs the nation a whopping $15 billion a year. Every nickel of which is spent on the dual task of keeping him in job and safe from the growingly impoverished masses. As a result, coercion, corruption, and cronyism (CCC) have come to mark his governance, while the masses languish in the prison of life. There is little that has been invested in their welfare over the past six years.

Even Islamabad, where Gen. Musharraf’s dictatorship seats itself, is not immune from his neglect. A case in point is the disaster site of the 10-story Margalla Tower, where volunteers were moving immovable slabs of concrete and jumbles of mangled steel with their bare hands. CNN and MSNBC have shown others hammering away at the remains of the building to recover the entrapped dwellers. Volunteers pulled out “one man by cutting off his legs,” reported the Associated Press.

This is the work of earth-moving machines– bulldozers, tractors, cranes. None was in sight, however. Atop of it all and even in the teeth of this tragedy, Gen. Musharraf showed up at the site in “full military gear” of “Chief of Army Staff” for a photo op. He never passes up an opportunity to insult the stricken nation of Pakistan by flashing his army uniform as a reminder that it continues to be shackled by his dictatorship.

His empty-headedness, which only exceeds his reputation, keeps spilling out of his gunner’s image, nevertheless. At the disaster site of Margalla Tower, he could not come up with a single word of sympathy for the victims or their surviving families. All he said was a gauntlet to the forces of nature: “…it is a test for all of us… and we are sure we will qualify this test,” AFP reported him saying. We will qualify this test? This syntax does not just represent unfamiliarity with human language, but unmitigated intellectual vacuity.

Still more empty-headedness was on display in his reaction to the earthquake, which was however predictable: Establishment of the “President’s Relief Fund.” Quick on his heels, his “Prime Minister” has set up two telephone lines in his secretariat. Is that all? Where is the institutional help? Relief and recovery effort? Saving lives from under the fallen structures? Who is going to call you, moron, when telephone lines in the quake-hit areas have all been knocked down?

Their actions are, indeed, worse than their intentions. Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, are still groaning under the damaged buildings and devastated dwellings. Those who have survived are still uncared for, hungry, and thirsty. In Abbotabad, which is strewn with military establishments and which sits only a stone’s throw from where Gen. Musharraf lives, “hospital staff used loudspeakers to ask people for food and other relief supplies.” “President’s Relief Fund” is not the answer to their needs. Instead, the Fund is a money-making scheme to further fertilize Musharraf dictatorship. Ben Phillips of Oxfam, on the contrary, has identified “tents, blankets, food, and medical supplies” as the immediate needs for the relief effort.

Between Sept. 11, 2001 and Sept. 11, 2003, Gen. Musharraf spun the war on terror into a cold cash of $20 billion. He should not be allowed to turn the blood of thousands of earthquake victims into another spigot of cash. First of all, an honest assessment of needs should be made for immediate relief supplies. The week from October 8 should be devoted to just saving, sheltering, feeding, and clothing the survivors. Can these needs be met locally, regionally, nationally? Should Pakistan ask friendly nations for help? The answer to all these questions depends upon a nation-wide needs assessment.

All relief aid – both public and private – however should be offered to private-sector charities such as the Red Cross, Oxfam, CARE, Edhi Welfare Trust, and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). In parallel, Pakistan’s political parties are taking charitable initiatives of their own as part of their long-held traditions, which deserve all-out support.

Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif have instructed their respective parties to set up relief operations in affected areas. As these parties have local roots in the quake-hit areas, they could be the best delivery mechanism for relief aid, and they should be preferred for cash donations to the “President’s Relief Fund.”

As a matter of fact, Prime Ministers Bhutto and Sharif have reportedly asked their party leaders to respectively set up the “PPP Relief Fund” and the “PML Relief Fund,” both inside and outside Pakistan, with substantial seed money of their own. Individual and organizational donors would better serve the cause of relief by making donations to these funds. In the meanwhile, my heart goes out to the victims of the devastating earthquake, and their families.

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