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Mountain Tsunami Exposes Pakistan’s New Orleans

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By Farooq Sulehria

It took few minutes and in these few minutes tragedy’ ridden land of Kashmir embraced yet another tragedy on the morning of October 8. An earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6 on the Richter scale hit the occupied state of Jammu Kashmir at 8.45am on Saturday and neighbouring Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and China. At the time of filing this report, the quake toll is put at 40, 000 counting. Another 50 thousand are reported injured while millions have been rendered helpless.

While media have been concentrating on Islamabad, particularly collapsed Margalla Towers, the journalists have yet to reach the worst hit region: Pakistani Occupied Kashmir (POK). Muzaffarabad, POK capital, has been reduced to rubble. Both roads leading to Muzaffarabad have been closed owing to land sliding. Reaching Bagh, another calamity hit district, is not easy even under normal circumstances owing to bad road links, is out-of-access at the moment. Nisar Shah, chairperson of Labour Party Pakistan, hails from Bagh. Himself living in port city of Karachi, Nisar has his family living in a Bagh village. He managed to reach Bagh adventurously This is what he reports from Bagh: ‘In Bagh, almost ninety percent of the houses are no more. Many bodies are unattended. There are no relief efforts seen by any government agencies even after 48 hours of the most disastrous earth quack in the history of Pakistan. I have seen girl’s colleges where it is estimated that over 200 students’ bodies are still in rubble. There is no electricity in the whole area. People are outside their houses and are in very bad situation. There are several hotels in Bagh where their guests are still under the collapsed buildings. There are dead bodies every where and bad smell is coming out. Many bodies unburied.
No medical facilities. People are very much depressed. The where about of many are not known’.
There is no aid reaching so for till this morning. Government can not be seen any where. It is a total disaster. It is the worst I have ever seen.
I personally have lost many relatives including my first cousins and husband of my sister’.

Even when people in Pakistan are generously donating to relief efforts, it is not certain if relief will reach in time, if at all. It is because access to 500 villages wiped from the face of earth is not possible without helicopters. While telephone system gone dysfunctional in Kashmir and roads blocked, Pakistani Occupied Kashmir is virtually cut off from rest of the world. Many would be wondering why authorities are insisting only on helicopters. Why not planes? Simply because POK has no airport despite a million Kashmiris, out of its 3.5 million population, live abroad. This utter lack of infrastructure has enhanced the enormity of the catastrophe that shook POK on the morning of October 8.

This criminal neglect of POK does not owe to economic deprivation. It has been a policy followed by the Pakistani ruling class to keep Kashmir undeveloped. Keeping Kashmir poor is as systematic as poverty for Black Americans is woven into the texture of US capitalism.

True, the government of Pakistan could not evacuate the people of Kashmir since earthquakes hit unlike hurricanes. But certain similarities between Kashmir and New Orleans are striking. While black population of New Orleans was given damn for decades on racial basis, quake victims in Kashmir have been victims of Pakistan’s colonial policies inflicted upon Kashmir. Human rights and development perhaps go hand in hand. Grave contempt for human rights in Kashmir, particularly in Gilgat Baltistan, a region cleverly detached from Kashmir by Pakistan in case Kashmir goes independent, is evident by the grave neglect of infra structure in Kashmir.

Another suitable comparison is Aceh ‘province’ of Indonesia. Having lost over 20 thousand in a liberation war against Indonesia, Aceh was the biggest target for tsunami. Kashmir, in its Indian occupied part, lost 80, 000 lives in a liberation war that began 1988. Now ‘Mountain tsunami’ flattens capital of its Pakistani occupied part besides 500 villages. A tragedy beyond description.

Meantime, fundamentalist leaders and right wing columnists are busy hurling nauseating statements, describing the earthquake as a punishment for sinful folks and advising to seek God’s forgiveness. While MMA (alliance of major fundamentalist parties, ruling NWFP province) leadership has pinpointed the unIslamic way of Pakistanis and media obscenity, widely read right wing columnist Hamid Mir (Daily Jang, Oct 10) makes fun of those ‘secular fundamentalists’ who refuse to attribute natural catastrophes to God’s wrath. Only few days ago BBC reported that God asked Bush to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. God must be crazy!


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