Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Apologies dear readers
I have to be off for a few days. In the meantime I do hope General Musharraf manages to resolve his personal crisis over the use of Indian helicopters.
The truth is that many of the survivors are in remote mountains or deep valleys, and helicopter is the only way to reach them. If Pakistan had accepted the offer made by the Indians ten days ago then a large number of lives could have been saved.
Realising that his earlier decision might possibly backfire on him, Musharraf has now offered to accept the Indian helicopers sans Indian pilots.
Even if the Indians accepted this condition - which they most likely won't - we just bloody don't have the pilots to fly these extra machines!
Who does Musharraf think he is kidding?
Monday, October 17, 2005
Scene: Neelum Stadium, Muzaffarabad, Thursday 13th October, 2005
The whole stadium ground has been converted into 8 helipads for the fifty or so helicopters that are working extended shifts providing relief to earthquake victims in isolated mountainous areas.
Helicopters are continuously landing at the pads disgorging casualties, quickly refuelling and stocking up with relief goods before taking off again. Thousands of lives are being saved by tireless efforts of these nameless and faceless people.
None are perhaps more driven than the pilots of Pakistan army’s 19 helicopters (now sadly 18 due to yesterday’s tragic crash). Calling them ‘heroes’ BBC says they were the only group of people ‘that have delivered more than was ever expected of them’.
"Each one of the 20-odd chopper pilots employed by the Pakistan army has been doing 12 to 16 hour days since the quake struck. For the first two days, they were even flying during the night - a practice strictly forbidden under normal circumstances.
…The commanders of these pilots say they will not stop their aid efforts, and when ordered to do so they fight and resist to the point of insubordination. "
It is believed that the army's fleet of the 10 Russian-built MI-17s - along with a few smaller ones - has rescued 6,000 people so far.
As the helicopters and crew were working their hearts out in non-stop emergency shifts last Thursday, a phone call was made from the PM’s Secretariat to the army demanding three of the army's ten large MI-17 helicopters and reservation of three of the eight helipads at Neelum Stadium for a period of two to three hours (during this time of peak relief activity).
The reason for the request? Shaukat Aziz wished to visit Muzafarrabad - he needed a single helicopter for himself and two for his security staff.
The purpose for the journey? Obviously to be the lead item on PTV’s evening news, as well on the news bulletins of the dozen or so private TV channels. And if he struck it lucky, then a spot on CNN and BBC as well.
I am told that the Lieut. General in charge of the relief efforts replied to the effect: ‘we will pretend that you never made such a crass and stupid request’.
Your blogger thinks Aziz got off too lightly. While all of Pakistan is in a state of anguish and bereavement, all this fellow can think about is polishing up his image and his ego. A sharp kick up his backside (preferably administered by someone from the Balakot or Bagh area) ought to have been the very minimum in punishment.
Friday, October 14, 2005
Blundering ineptitude on part of the government during the devastating cyclone of 1970 not only led to the death of 500,000 Pakistanis but also helped add fuel to the fire that led to the dismemberment of Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh a year later.
So what do we have now?
In recent days much has been made of the inability of the party in government – the Pakistan Army – to deal with our present calamity. This comes as a bit of a surprise. If there is any outfit that ought to be primed for crises it has to be the military. War, after all, is technically an emergency of major proportions as turbulent events take place on multiple fronts. And yes, battle success often depends upon superior organisational and logistical skills.
Television news reports coming from Muzaffarabad, Balakot, Bagh, etc., reveal that the Azad Kashmiris have been accusing General Musharraf and his military government of being slow to respond to the catastrophe.
For once the Commando-in-Chief decided to take it on the chin. Four long days after the earthquake, he appeared on television on the sixth anniversary of his military coup and regretted the delay in helping the earthquake victims.
OK, so the army may have been found wanting in dealing with the current crisis – which perhaps could be attributed to the organisation’s institutionalised boneheadedness. And so, it may have taken a day or so for the awful reality to dawn upon Musharraf and his men that the disaster encompassed more than just the collapse of Islamabad’s Margala Towers. Having said that, it must be also be mentioned that no government can really be completely prepared for a disaster of such enormity.
Having taken a brief glimpse at the most powerful political and governing force in the country, a cursory look at the army’s traditional consort-in-power - the senior bureaucracy – is also due.
Now this calls for confession time on part of your blogger who in his dealings with the senior bureaucracy has mostly found them to be:
- Corrupt and self-seeking
- Having a heightened sense of self-regard for their own intellect and abilities
- Stuck-up when dealing with their supposed inferiors (the general public)
- Profusely sycophantic to their superiors in power or political influence
- Generally dim-witted and prone to tunnel-vision
- Perpetually obsessed with bureaucratic rankings and their allotted perquisites
- Purposely indecisive, so they can never be blamed for anything.
- Grammatically challenged - being devotees of obsolete Victorian Raj bureaucratese
Rather than waste our mutual time discussing the bankruptcy of leadership of this generally unpleasant, incompetent species of mankind, one need look no further than the recent example set by some very senior bureaucrats.
According to a press report (Friday Times, October 14-20, 2005) at a dinner hosted by Punjab’s irrigation secretary, the former chief secretary of Punjab, Hafeez Akhtar Randhawa violently set upon the current chief secretary Kamran Rasul.
The account asserts that ‘Randhawa questioned Rasul, then threw him to the ground and beat him’. Apparently this thuggish assault was a result of an ongoing professional row between two powerful groupings of senior bureaucrats.
Randhawa, the attacking ruffian in question, is Musharraf’s classmate, while Kamran Rasul, was a firm favourite of the Choudhries of Gujrat, having for a time been even employed by them. Rasul, as chief secretary, had been allegedly using his official powers to pursue a campaign of vendetta against Randhawa and his bureaucratic associates.
Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Having just spoken at length on mobile telephone to a senior Pakistani journalist, who has spent the last four days in Muzaffarabad, Balakot and Bagh, a truly horrifying picture has begun to emerge:
- The destruction is so vast and so complete that it is impossible to convey through images on television, words spoken on radio or by written words in newspapers.
- With the enormity and spread of the earthquake a final figure around 100,000 fatalities is not impossible.
- The suffering of the victims is quite appalling - especially those wounded with broken limbs or other injuries – having to spend four days and nights out in the open without food, water or warm clothing. The journalist’s voice broke with emotion when he described a two year old child, he had seen, with a broken arm sitting in the darkness by the roadside shivering with cold.
- The work involved is completely beyond the ability and competence of the Pakistani army.
- Sadly even the volunteers who have rushed from Karachi, Lahore and other centres are contributing to the problem. In the Bagh area people tried to drive trucks on narrow roads meant for motorbikes only. Ths has resulted in blocked routes and logjams which have further delayed the arrival of relief in the more issolated areas.
- For most victims the lack of shelter has become the most serious concern number one problem. The nights are getting colder in this mountainous region and deaths by hypothermia become a serious reality.
Everyone believes if we had more helicopters relief would have reached the victims much quicker. So when Musharraf appealed to the world for more helicopters it made a lot of sense.
But how many people know that on Sunday when India offerred to place several helicopters at the general's disposal the nitwit turned the offer down. One really wonders what sort of world do these swaggering armymen live in?
And yet last weekend when the country emerged battered and bruised from nature's devastating onslaught, the man (and his voice) was missing. Ironically, for once it actually made sense for him to appear on television and display genuine leadership by explaining to the nation how he planned to deal with the catastrophe that had affected the lives of so many Pakistanis.
Further, as a former Pakistani district officer suggested on BBC Television, Musharraf should have temporarily shifted his office to a camp at Muzaffarabad and personally taken charge of the relief efforts. Not only would his presence have helped sort out the perennial confusion that results from joint civil-military ventures but it would have given him a chance to prove his competence and leadership.
So it is not surprising Musharraf is facing increasing criticism. Yesterday UK’s Daily Telegraph took him to task for his ‘depressing lack of imagination’ and held him responsible for ‘small-mindedness at the highest level’ of our government.
Daily Telegraph: Musharraf misses chance to mend fences
The earthquake in the Hindu Kush literally shook the foundations of the boundary between India and Pakistan in Kashmir. Yet it took a while to jolt General Pervez Musharraf out of accustomed ways of thinking on one of the great political faultlines of our day.
On Sunday, India offered to put helicopters at the general's disposal. At first, Islamabad said they weren't needed, which, given the scale of the disaster, was manifest nonsense. Then it came up with the feeble excuse that there could be no question of joint rescue operations because there was no population on the line of control. Finally, it agreed yesterday to accept a 25-tonne planeload of relief supplies.
The greatest natural disaster in Pakistan's history offered a rare chance to warm the slight thaw in relations with India. By first prevaricating, then accepting only limited help from a neighbour with vast resources, Gen Musharraf has displayed a depressing lack of imagination. And that small-mindedness at the highest level was yesterday reflected in the refusal of the Pakistan High Commission in London to grant a visa to Krishnan Guru-Murthy, the Channel 4 News presenter, because his parents were born in India.
Natural disasters and shared grief have the power to break barriers of prejudice. That happened after the earthquake in northwest Turkey in 1999, when the Greeks sent rescue workers and ships and planes loaded with relief supplies, bridging the gap between neighbours who had been at odds for decades over the Aegean and Cyprus.
A few weeks later, the Turks were able to reciprocate when a smaller earthquake struck Athens. More recently, the Indian Ocean tsunami hastened a peace agreement between the Indonesian government and the separatist Free Aceh movement, thus ending a struggle that had lasted nearly 30 years and taken 15,000 lives. However, there was no breakthrough in Sri Lanka, another tsunami sufferer, which has long been racked by a vicious war between the government and the Tamil Tigers.
In the wake of Saturday's earthquake, Pakistan has not totally snubbed India. But it should have made much quicker and more extensive capital out of New Delhi's offer. With a faultline like that across the sub-continent, you need leaders with the political courage to seize the moment.
In failing to do so, Gen Musharraf has let down the earthquake victims and damaged the long-term interests of his country.
And today in the same newspaper Ahmed Rashid takes the Pakistan Army to task for its incompetence in coping with the disaster.
Daily Telegraph - Musharraf is facing his 'Katrina moment' - by Ahmed Rashid
The last time the Pakistan army rode to the rescue of its citizens after a massive natural disaster, the result was a civil war and the loss of half the country.
That was in 1970, when half a million people in what was then East Pakistan drowned as a result of typhoons and floods, and the delay of the army in launching a relief effort led to enormous public anger and the eventual creation of Bangladesh.
The same army is once again in control of the country and of the desperately needed relief effort after an earthquake that in a breath has taken away 40,000 people - half of them children.
Western governments and Pakistanis will be looking closely at the political fall-out for President Pervez Musharraf, who remains a key Western ally, army chief, the supremo of the country and chief relief organiser. Will Gen Musharraf, like George W. Bush, have his Katrina moment, when the public turn against their leader?
For a country repeatedly facing monsoon floods, overflowing rivers, devastating storms and minor earthquakes, the army has been remarkably ill-prepared to face the current crisis.
Moreover, this is Azad Kashmir, where Pakistan has fought three wars with India, and invested trillions of rupees in military infrastructure to maintain 100,000 troops along the Line of Control.
Even though Azad Kashmir is supposed to be a model of development to expose the poverty in Indian-held Kashmir, the actual investment in social welfare and infrastructure such as roads and bridges has been minimal. The issue here is all about how much Third World governments are prepared to invest in their own people and disaster preparedness.
So far the army has been woefully slow in reacting to the disaster. Its much vaunted Crisis Management Cell - set up after 9/11, run by army officers and modelled on America's National Security Council - has itself been an abysmal disaster. Management on the ground has been superficial at best. Stories abound, such as the one about a 72-man team of Spanish rescuers and their sniffer dogs being kept waiting for 48 hours at Islamabad airport before someone told them where to go. But as the army operation kicks in, bolstered by foreign aid, money and helicopters, public anger will recede.
One may well ask why the seventh largest army in the world is holding its hand out for helicopters and tents when America has supplied dozens of helicopters since 9/11 and the country is one of the largest tent manufacturers in the world.
The army itself holds thousands of tents in stock, along with tens of thousands of tins of foodstuffs and blankets - which do not seem to have been released. Perhaps this is because the army continues to fight an insurgency in Balochistan and al-Qa'eda remnants in Waziristan along the border with Afghanistan. These operations are on-going even as the army runs the relief effort.
It has not gone unnoticed among Western intelligence agencies that the epicentre of the quake is also the epicentre of the camps run by Pakistani extremist groups affiliated to al-Qa'eda, where hundreds of Kashmiri militants and Afghans are being trained.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pointed the area out to visiting Western leaders on a map as being the centre of Taliban resurgence. The Kashmiris trained in this area still cross the Line of Control to ambush Indian patrols. The army, wishing to continue to exert pressure on India and Afghanistan, has turned a blind eye to these activities. While the army is likely to be wary of allowing Western aid agencies running pell-mell all over Azad Kashmir, it will now be impossible to keep these camps hidden and to continue training.
One positive result of the earthquake may be greater international and Pakistani civilian pressure to close these camps, thereby speeding up the peace process with India.
India has to respond to the tragedy not just by sending relief goods, but also by showing a greater willingness to start discussing Kashmir with Pakistan. So far India has refused to do so - insisting that many years of "confidence-building measures" are needed before it will discuss Kashmir.
But now that there are at least three million Kashmiris homeless on the Pakistani side and countless more on the Indian side, it's about time that India took the Kashmir issue seriously and both countries stop using these now totally destitute people as pawns.
Meanwhile Pakistan's political parties have rallied round the government in its hour of need. The Islamic fundamentalist leaders who have proclaimed that the earthquake was a result of God's anger at Musharraf cosying up to America and Israel have, thankfully, been completely ignored.
Once the relief effort is in place and the long, hard slog of rehabilitating millions of people starts, the heightened political awareness that catastrophes always bring in their wake will emerge.
For many Pakistanis, their first questions are likely to be: how long does their authoritarian military leader plan to rule over their lives, and when will they get a responsible elected government that is accountable for its failures?
In a few weeks, Musharraf will get back to the political business of trying to find a way to get himself elected as president in 2007 while staying as army chief. But he may find, just as President Bush did, that disasters make people much more reluctant to accept the status quo.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
It’s over three days now since the earthquake struck northern Pakistan. Our sense of shock may have diminished somewhat but a profound feeling of grief and pain continues to hold most of us in its thrall.
Throughout the country communities are trying to collect food, clothing and other essentials to send to those ravaged by the tragedy. Thousands of boxes of basic dry rations are being collected at community centres such as schools, blood donation drives are being organised, and many organisations are busy collecting warm clothing, shoes and blankets while others are raising money for the massive task of rebuilding homes and communities.
While we in Pakistan do whatever best we can for our devastated countrymen, we remain very grateful to all those who have helped and are helping our earthquake victims – and a special thanks to the search and rescue teams that flew in from all over the globe within hours of the tragedy.
Please keep up the good work and God bless you all.
Saturday, October 08, 2005
Most of the roads in this mountainous northern area are blocked with landslides and right now it is impossible to estimate the enormity of the human loss. Early reports indicate that Muzafarabad, Mansehra and the Hazara areas have been badly devastated. BBC has reported the heartbreaking death of 400 hundred schoolchildren in Mansehra district. In the capital Islamabad the collapse of a 10-storey apartment block has only added further horror to the calamity.
UAE, Turkey, UK and France have already sent plane loads of aid and specialist teams to assist Pakistan. At the same time George W. Bush has pledged the incredible sum of US$ 100,000. God bless the retard!
The only other sour note in this moment of national sorrow was caused by Musharraf’s spokesman, General Shaukat Sultan. The general appeared on Pakistan TV News to inform the nation that while thousands of civilians had perished in the earthquake he wished to let us know that some 200 army men had sadly been ‘martyred’ (shaheed) in the tragedy as well.
It might have been a Freudian slip but the general's words clearly suggest that while us humdrum civilians die ordinary deaths, Khaki-clads can only perish through martyrdom.
What utter drivel!
Sunday, October 02, 2005
So much for the much vaunted freedom of Pakistan’s press.
_________________________________________________His image (or as he claims ‘Pakistan’s image’) in the West is apparently of crucial importance to Musharraf. The Washington Post accused him, with some justification, of being ‘a ruler who cares more about how he is perceived in the West than in implementing the policies he claims to espouse, or even in speaking the truth’.
This obsessive sensitivity to Western perceptions has resulted in a number of image damaging absurditites, such as when Musharraf personally banned the gang rape victim Mukhtaran Mai from travelling to the US because of fear of the ‘bad press’ that would result.
Ironically one can confidently assert that no one has done more to damage Musharraf’s reputation than Musharraf himself. His self-destructive verbosity during the recent US visit is proof in itself.
To protect his and Pakistan’s image, if one were to follow previous examples, the logical corollary would be that Musharraf officially ban himself from further travels abroad (by placing his own name on the Exit Control List held at airports preventing ‘harmful’ Pakistanis from travelling overseas).
Saturday, October 01, 2005
Our Commando-in Chief can only grit his teeth in the face of damning proof of his mendacity. After making his infamous Neanderthalic comments, during a Washington Post interview, insinuating that some Pakistani women are in search of getting raped to make money and obtain Canadian visas, he was daft enough to subsequently deny it.
The Commando-in Chief actually went on record to say:
"Let me say with total sincerity that I never said that, and it has been misquoted”He was soon damned by his own words. The Washington Post not only stood by its interview but also put a recording of Musharraf’s own words on its Web pages. By his very own verbiage Musharraf had torn his own credibility to smithereens and condemned himself to being not only a liar but ‘silly and stupid’ to boot.
"These are not my words, and I would go to the extent of saying I am not so silly and stupid to make comments of this sort."
Thanks to the Washington Post’s online recording, I am told, downloaded audio CDs of Musharraf’s idiocy are already in circulation in Pakistan for those unable to access the internet.
The Post’s latest editorial has not only accused Musharraf of lying about his 'rape' interview but also about his:
- ‘Promises to retire from the army or restore democracy’.
- 'Not [carrying] out the reform of Islamic religious schools that he promised in 2001'.
- ‘[allowing] the extremist Afghan Taliban movement to base itself in Pakistan's western provinces with virtual impunity'.
- 'Repeatedly [insisting], almost certainly falsely, that Osama bin Laden is not in Pakistan. All the while he has gone on collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid each year from the Bush administration, which accepts his words and ignores most of his actions'.
- 'Claims to champion a "moderate Islam" that respects the rights of women'.