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With government aid sporadic or non-existent, survivors of the October 29 6.4-magnitude earthquake that rocked the impoverished Pakistani province of Baluchistan are receiving assistance from local Islamist groups, some of which the US has condemned as “terrorist organizations.” Within hours of the quake, people from Jamaat-ud-Dawa–condemned by the US as the political wing of the Kashmiri liberation and alleged “Al Qaeda associated” outfit Laskhar-e-Taiba–were distributing blankets, food, milk, and biscuits, promising to return soon with tents, and pledging to construct 1000 temporary homes.
Through 2007, the Bush administration had awarded Pakistan more than $10 billion in overt War-on-Terra military aid, and an estimated additional $5 billion in covert funds. To assist the tens of thousands of Pakistanis injured and displaced by the October 29 quake, in danger of freezing to death or perishing of sickness in the frigid winter air, the Bush administration has ponied up . . . $1 million. Or approximately four to six times the suspected amount Sarah Palin recently spent on clothes, accessories, jewelry, luggage, and spray-on tans for herself, her husband, and her five-child brood.
AFP offered this report on October 30:
Veiled mothers huddled with feverish babies in ruined Pakistani villages Thursday as sickness started to bite among earthquake survivors who spent a freezing night beneath open skies.
In crumbled settlements that no aid workers had reached more than a day after the powerful quake that killed at least 215 people, shivering residents begged for shelter, food, medicine–or just any help at all.
“We had so few blankets to cover ourselves during the night that we only had one between six children,” farmer Shahnawaz Khan told an AFP reporter who reached the remote southwestern village of Kan Bangla. “The cold was so severe that some of our children have fallen ill . . . . “
A Halloween report from the Herald-Sun noted:
Hundreds of children left homeless by a devastating earthquake in southwest Pakistan are suffering from potentially life-threatening dysentery and pneumonia . . . .
“Due to the cold hundreds of children are being treated for pneumonia, abdominal diseases, diarrhoea and chest problems,” the district health officer of the stricken hill town of Ziarat, Ayub Kakar, said. He said there was still a shortage of vital tents, blankets and clothes for people sleeping in the open in villages near Ziarat, as temperatures plunged below zero as winter sets in. “We fear the death toll will rise. Such diseases, if not treated in time, are life-threatening,” Mr Kakar said, adding that there was a shortage of medicines and antibiotics in the region.
He said children formed the majority of the population in the area, estimating that between 25,000 and 30,000 of them were affected.
“Many women have not been taken to local dispensaries and hospitals because of the conservative society. That’s why we are sending our teams to them to the affected areas to treat women and children,” Mr Kakar said.
Two days later Reuters added:
Villagers in a southwest Pakistani region hit by a powerful earthquake demanded shelter on Sunday saying they need help before a bitter winter sets in or their children could die . . . .
“We’ve got food, we’ve got relief, but we don’t have tents which can save our children from the cold,” said Rehmat Kakar, a 70-year-old farmer standing by the rubble of his house in Wam Khazi village.
“We want those tents urgently. Please save our children, don’t let them die,” said Kakar, who said that four of his seven children were killed in the quake . . . .
The Western press seems now to have moved on to other stories; the last Western story on the quake was apparently filed by Bloomberg seven days ago; there we learned that 70,000 people remain homeless. The Red Cross, as is its practice, blandly passes on figures provided it by the Pakistani government, which are invariably cheery. There seems, however, to be a rather pressing cry coming from the UN:
Survivors of a deadly earthquake that recently struck Pakistan’s Balochistan province urgently need winterized tents, blankets, warm clothing, food, health services and restored drinking water supplies as already low temperatures are likely to plunge even lower as winter approaches, according to the latest U.N. assessment.
In Pakistani media, the Daily Times reports that government officials who arrived on the scene to offer to buy dead and injured people were best by locals who complained they were not happy with the government relief operation and that “certain people” involved in the aid effort were not to be trusted. The Nation notes that “the local leadership has serious doubts about early rehabilitation of those affected by the calamity. They are aware of the fate of the victims of the 2005 quake, many of whom have not yet been provided shelter despite massive donations coming in from across the world.” The 2005 quake killed 74,000 people in northern Pakistan; then, too, among those first to arrive with aid were “hardline Islamist groups.”
Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the outfit that arrived to aid the quake refugees, is a legal political party and charity in Pakistan. In 2006, however, the US banned it as a “front” for Laskhar-e-Taiba, an armed group that seeks to wrest the disputed province of Kashmir from India. Laskar-e-Taiba was outlawed by Pakistan under US pressure in the months following September 11, 2001; previously, as it fought only India in Kashmir, it was tolerated within Pakistan.
The lingering Pakistani/Indian conflict over Kashmir is a relict of the hastily conceived and executed 1947 British partition of Indian colonial holdings. The region was “partitioned over lunch,” as the BBC puts it, and the partition’s primary architect, Lord Mountbatten, is today credited with a large share of the responsibility for a massacre of more than 500,000 people. Mountbatten was himself blown up on his boat in 1979, in a politically botched operation by the Irish Republican Army that was originally intended to equate the disastrous partitioning of India and Pakistan with the disastrous partitioning of Ireland.
I frankly don’t know enough about Lashkar-e-Taiba to determine whether it’s a terrorist outfit or not. Much of what I found on the tubes was fairly bloodcurdling, but much of it is old, from the earliest days of the War on Terra, when anything to flow from George II’s lips was regarded as gospel. It is likewise difficult to determine the extent of the connection between LeT and Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which is the charity/party aiding the quake victims.
But that is not really the point. When you’re trying to win “hearts and minds” in a land that regards you with suspicion, you certainly don’t want the “bad guys” arriving on scene first to do the good-guy things. The ghost of Benazir Bhutto in Reconciliation writes:
I specifically recall that the Al Rasheed terrorist network, later found to have been involved in the kidnapping and murder of the journalist Daniel Pearl, set up tandoor oven bakeries throughout the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan. Each day mothers and fathers would come to the bakery to pick up their families’ daily allotments of nan, three pieces for every family member. These families had been starving, and now they were being fed. And in every tandoor bakery set up by Al Rasheed in Afghanistan, a picture of Osama bin Laden looked down from the wall. As parents got their rations of bread that would keep their children alive, it was Osama bin Laden who got the credit.
“We do not believe in politics,” a local Jamaat-ud-Dawa official, first to come to the aid of these people in need, told AFP, “but to serve the people when they need it the most.” Well said. Whether truth or propaganda, well said. While what the US, and the government of Pakistan, had then to say was . . . nothing.
BushCo’s frankly insulting ante of but $1 million to these people demonstrates that this crew, to the very end, will refuse to learn from history, even its own.
A similar phenomenon was found in Pakistan following the 2005 earthquake that killed almost 90,000 of my countrymen and women. The United States alone committed half a billion dollars in relief, and American military transports and American soldiers delivered that assistance to freezing and starving survivors. Polling conducted by ACNielsen Pakistan showed that favorable opinion of the United States doubled in response to the visible, generous assistance.
Clearly, the BushCo folks no longer give a damn if Pakistanis have a “favorable opinion” of the United States . . . now that they’re not going to be the United States much longer.
(An ur-version of this diary appeared on Never In Our Names.)