Socialist Worker

Pakistan’s poorest feel the aftershock

The survivors of the South Asian earthquake are in a battle for survival while the Musharraf regime does nothing, writes Yuri Prasad

Issue No. 1973

The injured were left waiting for help close to the epicentre of the earthquake (Pic: Kamila Hyat/

The injured were left waiting for help close to the epicentre of the earthquake (Pic: Kamila Hyat/ IRIN )

Within a matter of weeks winter will bring snow to the mountains in Kashmir and temperatures will drop below zero. Without shelter, food or warm clothing thousands of people who have already lost loved ones and friends in the recent earthquake will perish.

The military government of general Musharraf has been unable to respond to the scale of the crisis. It even suggested that this was a “minor quake” and that there were not many casualties.

It was left to the non-state TV channels, the volunteer aid workers and the charities to expose the truth of the devastation.

But the earthquake has not destabilised Musharraf’s regime in the way the flooding of New Orleans destabilised George Bush’s hold on power.

The main opposition parties in Pakistan called for national unity — even suspending a day of action against military rule that was planned for 12 October.

But there has been an outpouring of active generosity from ordinary people. Millions of rupees have been collected but many thousands are also volunteering their time in collection stations, relief camps and makeshift hospitals.

Riaz, a socialist in Karachi, says, “Right from the beginning people ignored what the state would do.”

“It did nothing beyond collecting donations. Here in Karachi a TV presenter called on people to bring relief goods to the airforce museum and within twelve hours more than 32 plane loads had been collected.”

“While up to 10,000 volunteers a day donated goods at the museum, the airforce base has 5,000 armed men sitting idle.

“Five miles north of this is another military base where 5,000 troops sit idle. Five miles south there are navy bases with over 10,000 men doing nothing.”

Pervez is a university professor from Islamabad who volunteered to bring collected goods to Balakot — a town near the epicentre of the earthquake that was home to 30,000 people.

“From under the rubble of collapsed buildings, there is a gut-wrenching smell of decaying corpses that now fills the town,” he says. “If there is a plan to clear the concrete rubble in and around the town, nobody seems to have a clue.

“Chinook helicopters, diverted from fighting Al Qaida in Afghanistan, weave their way through the mountains — temporarily birds of peace instead of war. Their visibility makes relief choppers terrific propaganda.

“This is undoubtedly why the Pakistani government refused an Indian offer to send helicopters to Muzzafarabad.”

“There is chaos,” says Samina, who also volunteered at Balakot. “There is no project office where the relief organisations can come together and establish a pattern of operation. But I saw politicians there shaking hands, along with their camera crews.”

In order to survive, the victims of the earthquake need tents, warm clothes, blankets, fuel and epidemic controlling drugs quickly — the question is whether they will get them in time.

For more on the situation in Pakistan go to International Socialists Pakistan

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Sat 22 Oct 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1973
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