Earthquake in Pakistan: Destruction, Suffering
and the US Militarization of "Relief"
Revolution #019, October 23, 2005
Pakistan, October 8, Saturday morning. People
were already up and working and schoolchildren were at their
desks when a devastating earthquake struck, followed by more
than 100 aftershocks. Officials estimate that 25,000 have
been killed. But rescue operations have not even reached many
areas hit by the quake and many bodies are still buried beneath
piles of concrete, steel and wood. The death toll is expected
to surpass 40,000. The earthquake’s epicentre was near Muzaffarabad,
the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, which suffered
extensive damage, with most of its buildings destroyed. And
whole communities have been flattened in the region touching
Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan.
The destruction is immense. Four million
people have been affected, tens of thousands have been injured,
and as many as 2.5 million have been left homeless.
Some people were rescued after being trapped
for several days underneath piles of collapsed concrete. A
number of countries sent professional search-and-rescue teams,
and a French group found five children at one school. But
these teams only stayed a couple of days and only went to
the more accessible areas.
In such devastation every hour counts. People
trapped under rubble can be saved and the seriously wounded
need immediate hospital care. But for several days, there
was no help for tens of thousands.
People were forced to dig with their bare
hands to find survivors. Villagers carried the wounded for
hours across rugged terrain, trying to find medical help.
In Balakot, a northern town of 30,000, dozens came from surrounding
areas to help lift the debris, pull out bodies, and help the
wounded. But there was a limit to what they could do without
heavy lifting equipment and medical supplies.
People have lost their homes and loved ones
and there is no food or shelter. Desperate crowds have descended
on military trucks, trying to get food, tents and medicine.
Five days after the quake, rescuers had not yet reached hundreds
of villages and, according to Pakistani officials, only 3,110
people had been evacuated by helicopter.
The Politics of U.S. Aid
The day after the earthquake, the U.S. contributed
$1 million to the Red Cross and $100,000 in aid to Pakistan
(see BBC table of international aid offered
to Pakistan). Later
the U.S. pledged $50 million, the use of eight helicopters,
two portable hospitals, and some engineers with earthmoving
The U.S. has been known to promise aid and
then never deliver. John Samuel, Asia director of ActionAid
International, told a news conference earlier this year the
U.S. aid promised after the Asian tsunami is a classic example
of "phantom aid." And Emira Woods, at the Institute
for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., points out that the
U.S. government places conditions on foreign aid that require
most relief and development assistance materials and services
to be purchased from U.S. companies and agencies.
Even if the U.S. actually delivered on its
promise to Pakistan -- it would still be only a quarter of
what the U.S. spends every day for the war in Iraq. And as
trapped and wounded died in Pakistan, just over the border,
there was a fleet of U.S. helicopters being used to "hunt
International Aid to Pakistan
UK: $177,000 and 60-strong team
China: 49 rescuers, dogs, 17 tons of equipment
Japan: 50 rescue workers
Russia: 30 rescuers, sniffer dogs, special equipment
Source: BBC News Website
Pakistan is a poor and underdeveloped country,
and much of the area hit by the quake is remote and impoverished.
Many wounded and dying have no medical care even in normal
times and survivors now face little or no shelter against
the cold weather setting in. All this, and the outbreaks of
disease, will add to the death toll. And while billions of
dollars and huge resources, including massive transport and
medical capabilities, are being used to occupy and kill people
in Iraq, in the critical days after the earthquake, thousands
of people were left to die.
Unlike after the recent Asian tsunami and
Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Bush didn’t wait for days
before saying something about the earthquake in Pakistan.
But this didn’t have anything to do with saving lives. It
had everything to do with U.S. strategic interests in Pakistan.
Pakistan has a 1,400-mile border with Afghanistan
and after September 11 it became crucial to the U.S. "war
on terror." Bush offered $3 billion in aid and Pakistan’s
president Pervez Musharraf cravenly submitted to U.S. requests
for military and logistical support in the invasion of Afghanistan.
Musharraf has since been a key U.S. flunky in a country where
reactionary Islamic fundamentalism is very powerful, including
within Pakistan’s military and intelligence apparatus.
The area hit by the earthquake is an extremely
unstable region. For over 50 years, India and Pakistan have
fought over the contested territory of Kashmir. And the so-called
"Line of Control" separating India-controlled and
Pakistan-controlled Kashmir is one of the most militarized
areas in the world. Musharraf, who has survived several assassination
attempts, has been holding together a government with many
competing centers of power -- and the U.S. fears the earthquake
could further destabilize things and lead to Musharraf’s downfall.
The New York Times reported that
one reason for the quick offer of U.S. aid to Pakistan was
"the desire to bolster General Musharraf when his
help is badly needed in finding Osama bin Laden and repressing
Islamic radicals." ( New York Times, "Showing
Speed and Loyalty, Bush Mobilizes Aid to Pakistan,"
The Militarizationof U.S. "Relief"
After Hurricane Katrina, we saw how the U.S.
treated the people -- how instead of helping survivors, police
and national guardsmen shoved guns in people’s faces.
This is no accident. The insertion of military
forces as the major force in disaster relief is a
military doctrine being articulated and fought for by high-level
policy makers in the Bush regime.
Remember what Brig. Gen. Gary Jones, commander
of the Louisiana National Guard’s Joint Task Force, said in
New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina? He said:
"This place is going to look like Little Somalia.
We’re going to go out and take this city back. This will
be a combat operation to get this city under control."
Reactionary pro-imperialist military analyst
Robert D. Kaplan put it straight out in a New York Times
op ed piece a couple days after the earthquake ("Next:
A War Against Nature," 10-12-05). He said:
"The rest of the world and even quite a few Americans
are uncomfortable with the globe-trotting United States
military. But in future years they will see much more of
it. The causes will be more related to the natural environment
than to terrorism… When such disasters occur, security systems
break down and lawlessness erupts. The first effect of the
earthquake in the Pakistani town of Muzaffarabad was widespread
looting--just as in New Orleans. Relief aid is undermined
unless those who would help the victims can monopolize the
use of force. That requires troops."
"Because of our military’s ability to move quickly
into new territory and establish security perimeters, it
is emerging as the world’s most effective emergency relief
organization… The distinctions between war and relief, between
domestic and foreign deployments, are breaking down."
First of all, Kaplan is lying – widespread
looting did not characterized the situation in New Orleans
or the earthquake-hit areas in Pakistan. In both cases, the
masses of people showed tremendous courage in helping each
other as they faced a horrible situation with no government
help in sight.
Then Kaplan redefines disaster relief
aid. For the U.S., it’s not about rescuing people, bringing
in food, water and medical supplies or providing transportation
and shelter for the wounded and homeless. It’s about establishing
U.S. military control and using this situation to further
the aims of U.S. imperialism. In this same op ed piece Kaplan
talks about undertaking relief work "to win goodwill
and, informally, to pick up intelligence on America’s terrorist
Robert Kaplan is not just anyone. He’s well
connected to the Bush regime and the Pentagon. He is the author
of 10 books on international affairs and travel. When George
W. Bush was governor of Texas he claimed Kaplan was at the
top of his reading list, and Kaplan’s books were also on President
Bill Clinton’s bookshelf. Kaplan has been a consultant to
the U.S. Army’s Special Forces Regiment, the U.S. Air Force,
and the U.S. Marines. He has lectured at military war colleges,
the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Pentagon’s
Joint Staff, and the U.S. State Department.
And how did Robert Kaplan spend his summer?
In a recent speech to the Carnegie Council, he explained that
he was embedded with a ranger battalion in Nepal. A genuine
liberation struggle is going on in Nepal and a Maoist people’s
war now controls most of the countryside. The U.S. has provided
the reactionary Nepalese regime with millions of dollars,
thousands of weapons and military training. Like Pakistan,
Nepal sits on the Himalayan fault line. And as in Pakistan,
a devastating earthquake would provide the U.S. with new opportunities
to break down, as Kaplan says, the " distinctions
between war and relief and between domestic and foreign deployments."
"After observing a map in which
the Pentagon had divided the world into five areas of command,
Mr. Kaplan concluded that even though some may wish to deny
the very existence of America’s imperialistic policies,
wasn’t this map proof that the Pentagon had appropriated
the entire planet, leaving no point of the earth surface
From an introduction to a speech by Robert
D. Kaplan, consultant to the U.S. military, 10 days before
the earthquake in Pakistan (see http://www.carnegiecouncil.org)
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