Sunday, October 16, 2005

Natural disaster politics - II

Previous surmises re: the politics of relief in Kashmir appear, depressingly, to be borne out. A report in today's Observer notes that 'As a result of the Pakistani government's failure to get aid to the most remote areas, Kashmiris living in towns like Bagh are turning for help to well-organised Islamic militant groups, officially banned by President Musharraf. In the mosques of Kashmir they are talking of a new jihad. Pakistan-based Islamic militants, who spent the past decade fighting Indian rule in the region, have announced a 'holy war' to help victims of the earthquake.'

Meanwhile, Abdul Qayyum, a Bagh schoolteacher, is quoted as saying: 'We are desperate for heavy machinery: drills, backhoes, anything that can help remove the debris and perhaps save lives...The government should send heavy machinery so we can get bodies or save those who are still alive. If they can't help us, then let the Indian army over the border. They are only kilometres away. What is more important - politics or lives? We can hear the call to prayer from their mosques floating across the line of control. Their buildings are standing - they can help us.' But the high profile relief activities of groups like Jamaat-ud-Dawa (an outfit with past links to Lashkar-e-Taiba) have angered the Indian army, reducing the already slim chances of it intervening in the area, the report goes on to say. So the fundamental question remains: Is the question of who does the rescuing more important than the fact of rescue itself?

The Indian army has been assessing the impact of the earthquake on the activities of militant organisations, concluding that both Hizb-ul Mujahideen and Lashkar-e-Toiba have lost several activists, with the former being particularly hard hit. The army has, apparently, been 'carrying out a happy balance of relief operations and are also not letting their guard down in anti-militancy operations', and has gunned down 29 militants since the quake struck. It obviously sees the earthquake as a 'hearts and minds' opportunity in which to demonstrate its contribution to welfare, while taking advantage of quake-induced disarray to crack down on militant organisations.

Some glimmers of Indo-Pak cooperation are in evidence: India has just agreed to a request from Pakistan to allow the flying of helicopters in the no-fly zone (1 km along the LoC) on a 'case-by-case' basis.

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