‘A Tale of Two Tragedies’

‘A Tale of Two Tragedies’ by Tariq Ali for The Nation, October 26, 2005

The government figures provided the third week after Pakistan’s earthquake are probably a serious underestimate, but they indicate the scale of the catastrophe: 50,000 dead, 74,000 injured and at least 3.3 million—far more than after the tsunami—left homeless, virtually all of them in the mountains, where snow begins to fall in November. The poverty of the overwhelming majority of the victims is only too apparent. Bagh, a town north of Muzaffarabad, has virtually ceased to exist. In Islamabad a relief worker told me that “there is a stench of rotting corpses everywhere. In their midst survivors are searching for food. Local people say that 50,000 have died in this town alone. And more will follow if medicines and food are not equitably distributed.”

The continuing shortage of helicopters in Pakistan has meant that the survivors in the more remote mountain villages on the Indo-Pak border in Kashmir remain out of reach. In neighboring Afghanistan, where there is a glut of helicopters, NATO has been reluctant to release too many from the war zone despite the advice of Robert Kaplan in the International Herald Tribune, who had this to say about benevolent US-NATO rescue missions: “The distinctions between war and relief, between domestic and foreign deployments, are breaking down…. hunting down Al Qaeda in its lair will be impossible without the goodwill of the local population. That attitude can be generated by relief work of the kind taking place in Kashmir. It’s the classic counterinsurgency model: Winning without firing a shot.” read more