Originally Published 2005-10-13 05:59:58 Published on Oct 13, 2005
In the earthquake tragedy, India and Pakistan have a rare opportunity to forget past differences and bitterness, at least some of it to begin with, and forge a partnership of peace and development. Both the countries should shed past inhibitions and acrimony, and look for fresh opportunities to work together for a common cause: to rebuild Kashmir.
When calamity shows the way
In the earthquake tragedy, India and Pakistan have a rare opportunity to forget past differences and bitterness, at least some of it to begin with, and forge a partnership of peace and development. Both the countries should shed past inhibitions and acrimony, and look for fresh opportunities to work together for a common cause: to rebuild Kashmir. 

The earthquake has destroyed large parts of Kashmir, mostly in the Pakistan occupied territory. According to Pakistan media reports, villages after villages in the remote mountains have disappeared. Tremors have razed towns to the ground. Even big cities have suffered extensive damage. Infrastructure in these areas lies crippled. Roads, telecommunication networks besides other basic necessities are in a state of shambles and will need a colossal amount of investment and human effort to be restored. The human toll has been of tragic proportions. 

For Pakistan, the tragedy could not have come at a worse time. The Pakistan economy, after years of downswing, was looking up, mainly due to foreign investments and financial support. Through an admirable sleight of hands, and wits, President Pervez Musharraf has been able to bail out his country through some of the most troublesome times during the last six years of his rule. He took over on October 12, 1999. For Musharraf, the tragedy offers the most difficult challenge, and a great opportunity, to mark his place in the history of Pakistan.

There are a few ground realities he should know. Pakistan neither has the expertise nor the financial resources to deal with a tragedy of this magnitude. He will certainly require enormous commitment from the international community. It is not only money that his country requires but also a commitment in terms of human resources and expertise to rebuild the destroyed region. There will certainly be an outpouring of financial and material help to Pakistan in the immediate aftermath, which, over a period of time, will peter out as new tragedies and priorities will demand attention. 

The challenge before President Musharraf is to set in motion a process which will ensure a quick and comprehensive redressal of problems of the affected people. This calls for a two-pronged strategy. First, the immediate requirements of food, water, medicines and shelter will have to be met. Second, infrastructure restoration will have to be initiated.

As a veteran military man, President Musharraf will certainly be aware of the limitations of the Pakistan armed forces, especially the Army, in handling this altogether new situation. The Army is neither equipped nor trained, nor experienced, in handling natural disasters of this magnitude. The Pakistan Army has extensive experience in putting down internal rebellion, hunt terrorists and fight a conventional battle. It has woefully inadequate expertise and experience in dealing with human tragedies. 

He might not have missed another critical factor. There is no civilian infrastructure worth its salt to handle the situation. The six years of martial regime has whittle down civilian establishment. The political leadership in these areas has always acted as puppets of Islamabad. Economic activities are a naught. 

The area is either controlled by militant organisations or sectarian outfits. It is, therefore, next to impossible for Musharraf to gather local resources to carry out even the rescue and relief operations. This is the reason why the President called for international help on the day of the quake itself, betraying his sense of helplessness. Under these circumstances, the best option available for Musharraf is to liaison with India. India has enormous resources, primarily human, to deal with such situations. 

There is vast wealth of expertise in handling tragedies like the recent earthquake. The Indian Army is one of the most experienced fighting force which has been dealing with civilian issues for half-a-century. The Indian army, since 1947, has not only been fighting wars on two or more fronts, simultaneously, but also has been equally busy with tackling natural and human-made disasters. Whether be it floods or earthquakes, the Army has always been at the forefront of the search and rescue operations besides initiating development work. The current earthquake is an immediate example of the Army's quick response to such situations. The Army not only reached the affected areas and people first but also 

What President Musharraf needs, therefore, is to talk to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and set up a joint task force on handling the situation. The Foreign Ministers of both the countries should meet without any loss of time and chalk out short and long-term strategy. The meeting could be organised in Islamabad. The joint task force can consist of both civilian and military officials with expertise and experience in dealing with natural disasters and restoration work.

The task force should also involve both Indian and Pakistani NGOs. As a first step, India should seek Pakistan's nod in helping to restore basic lines of communication, transport, and water. This could help water, food and medicines reach even the remotest part of the affected areas. Pakistan should allow the Indian Air Force to operate its helicopters to ferry the aid and the affected.

To assure Pakistan on its strategic concerns in allowing the Indian military helicopters fly over the LoC and other military locations, India can make an offer to take a different route to reach the airbases for search and rescue operations. Pakistan will have to shed its overtly military concerns and India should offer adequate guarantees to facilitate such operations.

The task force can begin work on restoring the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road which has been extensively damaged in the quake. This restoration work will help in speeding up the relief work and neutralise preconceived fears. India has enough experience in setting up ready-made, quake proof shelters. 

This expertise can be utilised to provide shelters to lakhs of families living out in the open in cold nights. The Indian industry can chip in here, raising funds and resources for large-scale transportation of ready-to-make shelters to ease the pain and anxiety on either side of the borders. 

The Indian pharmaceutical companies should come together to ensure that medicines required for the quake-affected region are never in shortage. Various medical associations can put together teams of doctors and para-medics to be dispatched to the affected areas without any further delay. The task force should facilitate transportation of such men and material to the affected sites.

None of these will materialise till President Musharraf agrees to seek and accept Indian help. Such a step calls for immense courage and foresight. It also calls for Musharraf to shed his past anxieties about Indian intentions and trust the people of both the countries who have been keeping the flame of friendship alive through social and cultural interactions. 

The current peace process has strengthened the bond between the people and the leadership of both the countries needs to build on this trust. Musharraf will have to first convince his Army and then his political supporters. He has both the power and vision to do so. He must. 

It is in this context that the quake, howsoever tragic, offers Musharraf a chance to write a new chapter in the India-Pakistan relations. And, be remembered as a statesman. Not as a military dictator who failed both his people and nation.

The writer is Senior Fellow and Director, Information Services, Observer Research Foundation.

Source: The Pioneer, New Delhi, October 12, 2005.
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