The India Factor
By Dr Shireen M. Mazari

At this time of devastation and tragedy the nation has shown a remarkable spirit of giving and a tremendous sense of gratitude to the international community for providing an ever-increasing amount of aid. After all, whatever aid is extended by the international community needs to be appreciated as it is voluntary and reflects a basic humanity that overrides politics and conflicts. In that context, Pakistan has also appreciated the aid sent across by India. Realizing the massive scale of the disaster, Pakistan has welcomed aid and assistance from wherever it has been offered.
However, it is unfortunate that India has not missed the opportunity to try and score political points even at this time of immense tragedy that has also impacted the territory of Kashmir occupied by the Indian state. It is even more pitiful that some in Pakistan have fallen prey to this Indian game and have been haranguing the state of Pakistan for refusing to accept Indian military personnel and helicopters for rescue operations in AJK.
Certain points need to be clarified from the outset. To begin with, the Indian offer of military helicopters with their military crews was made only once when the earthquake struck and this seemed to have been enough to rally round the Indophiles in this country. But they forgot that the quake had also struck Indian Occupied Kashmir (IOK). If the Indians had an excess capacity of helicopters, why were Kashmiris in IOK lamenting the lack of response from the Indian state and civil society? Given that aid had not reached the remote quake-stricken areas in IOK even after three days of the disaster, why were the available copters not being deployed in that region by the Indian state? Five days after the quake, survivors in areas such as Salamabad, Gundishot and Gawalan had yet to see the face of any assistance -- either from civil society or the Indian government. Reuters quoted farmers like Syed Mukhtar Hussein expressing anger that “the government of India is sending relief to Pakistan and they are not helping us, who they claim are their people.” Yasin Malik of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front declared that the disaster “was a golden opportunity for the government of India to show a human face but the government missed the opportunity.”
Nor is the Kashmiri anger in the occupied territory directed only at the Indian government. A Reuters report, dated October 14, cites Noor Ahmed Baba, head of the Political Science Department at Kashmir University, Srinagar, complaining: “When the tsunami happened, Kashmiris donated money and were involved in the aid effort. But this time we have not seen Indian civil society moving to help Kashmir.” The slow response of the Indian state and society in aiding the stricken in IOK drew a sharp comment from Mir Waiz Umar Farooq during a special prayer at Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid on Tuesday, October 11. Contrasting the response of Indian civil society to the Gujarat earthquake, he lamented: “It is sad that people have not responded to this great tragedy. This was not expected. When Latur and Bhuj were ravaged, big industrialists stepped forward to help. But no one seems to be coming to our aid.” (The Hindu, October 13.)
The Indian state’s slow response in terms of aid and assistance to the Kashmiris living under its occupation has also resulted in a public litigation filed in the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in which the petitioners have also alleged that the injured were being charged an ambulance fee of between Rs 300 and Rs 1,500 for shifting them to Srinagar hospitals, adding that the government had made no attempt to send aid beyond Tangdhar. So where is the excess capacity of the Indian military in terms of the helicopters that they apparently want to sent to AJK? Worse still, a week after the quake, according to Reuters, UNICEF was still waiting for permission to enter IOK and set up its relief efforts -- unlike in AJK where it is in the forefront of relief work.
Clearly the Indian ‘offer’ of helicopters was more of a point-scoring move, given its own situation in Occupied Kashmir. But there was a more devious purpose as well, in case Pakistan had succumbed to the Indian game plan. Any Indian military personnel given access to AJK would not only have seen the lay of the land but also the military situation relating to the Pakistan Army -- including the damage in lives and material.
In contrast, the Indian media has been given access to AJK with NDTV moving in almost immediately. Would India allow similar access in IOK to Pakistani media teams? So far that has not happened, but if UNICEF is finding it hard to get into IOK with relief, certain rational conclusions can be drawn regarding Pakistan’s media presence.
Indian intent regarding the extent it is prepared to go to in aiding relief efforts can be assessed from the Indian conditional permission to allow Pakistani copters to fly in the one-kilometer-wide “peacetime no-fly zone” over the LoC. Given how the Indians feel it quite proper for us to allow their military presence in AJK, why has the Indian government been so niggardly in granting permission to Pakistan to fly over this zone only on a case-by-case basis? What possible threat would India have faced if it had given this permission unconditionally, so that time would not be wasted in having the DGMO on the Pakistani side of the LoC first contacting his Indian counterpart every time a Pakistani rescue helicopter had to enter this zone? So it is time the Indophiles in Pakistan woke to the reality of the Indian state’s mindset.
Unfortunately, the India factor is impacting more than just the helicopter debate. The strong Indian influence over the BBC is evident not only in the time given to discussion on the helicopter issue, but also in the fact that while reports on the quake from India are being handled by an Indian BBC stringer, for reports from AJK and Pakistan the Pakistani representative of the BBC was obviously seen as suspect and so we have had BBC reporters descend on us from London itself. As a result the Pakistani face of the BBC is barely visible on the screen.
But the real absurdity is the BBC Urdu Service on the radio. Seemingly full of Indian-origin interviewers, they have been conducting pre-interview interviews to ascertain who can be critical enough of the Pakistani state so that his/her voice can be broadcast. I witnessed one such event where in the pre-interview interview the interviewer desperately tried to make a doctor declare that the Pakistani state had failed and the hospitals were neglecting the injured and so on. When that did not work the interview was simply cut off! So much for the BBC’s credibility. So while we as Pakistanis must be grateful for all international aid, including that from our neighbors, we must not allow anyone to make political capital out of our human tragedy.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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