Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Politics in crisis.

(Left: Pakistani side - waiting for a meal. Right: Indian side - waiting for relief.)

Somini Sengupta writes for The New York Times (full article) -
Calamities of nature do not just test the capacity of a state. They can also offer unexpected opportunities for political craftsmanship. Take India. The government has announced that it needs no international aid to recover from the Oct. 8 earthquake. Indian officials say that they are able to care for their own, and that tents are coming from private producers and the Indian military. It is too early to tell whether India, which seeks a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, can go it alone. Certainly there is anger in Indian-administered Kashmir among people who have been forced to build their own tents out of the wooden beams and tin sheets retrieved from the rubble of their homes. In short, India has been anxious to portray itself as a giver, rather than a receiver. "What we can manage on our own, we do," said Hamid Ansari, a retired Indian diplomat. "There's a certain sense of self-confidence that we can manage it and, let me say, a desire to signal that you are capable of managing things on your own."

Pakistan's approach has been exactly the opposite. Hit a whole lot harder by the Oct. 8 quake - its official death toll stood at 42,000 on Tuesday- Pakistan has appealed for worldwide help and allowed foreigners to travel to its side of Kashmir and to the traditionally well-guarded pockets of North-West Frontier Province, the two areas that suffered the greatest damage.
Tavleen Singh retorts strongly in Indian Express (full article) -
I write today from New York where the New York Times has a picture on its front page with a caption that conveys the impression that all is well in Pakistan but on the Indian side relief has not reached victims. "‘In Pakistan, Awaiting a Meal; in India, Awaiting Relief", said the caption under a picture of Pakistani victims in Balakot eating a meal. The New York Times correspondent who wrote it was impressed with Pakistan's relief efforts and disapproved of India because the Indian government had refused international aid. "‘In short, India has been anxious to portray itself as a giver, rather than a receiver."’ Implication: how dare India get so uppity.

I am not usually chauvinistic or overly patriotic but confess to being irritated by the unfairness of the attack on India in one of the world'’s most respected newspapers. In the face of such a terrible tragedy you would imagine that at least the Press would stay away from playing petty politics. But, politics appears to be the name of the game for everyone. When India offered aid on day one it appears to have been a political move since the government has been unable so far to provide tents for our own victims. This is outrageous considering that the Army alone should be able to supply tents in sufficient numbers.

When Pakistan refused India's help but asked instead for helicopters unmanned by Indian pilots we see evidence of more politics at play. And, when Kashmir'’s separatist leaders like Mirwaiz Umar Farooq complained on almost the first day about the lack of response from India Inc we see more politics at play. When terrorists continued their murderous attacks, last week, it was again a matter of politics (we are still alive and killing) and when they distribute relief it seems also to be a matter of politics. Then, we have the politically connected vultures in Srinagar already contacting businessmen in Mumbai to alert them about big pickings in the reconstruction process.

The Kashmir earthquake exposed South Asia at its worst. It exposed the basic lack of compassion on the part of those who rule us and it exposed the hopelessly inadequate infrastructure that most Indians and Pakistanis are forced to suffer because our governments have been too busy spending money on war machines. On the Indian side it is outrageous that journalists and TV crews should have been able to reach remote villages before relief did. And, outrageous that even after last December's tsunami the government has been unable to put in place a disaster relief mechanism that goes into immediate effect in a crisis. The requirements are always the same ' medical assistance, food and shelter'— and yet every time disaster strikes we see the same hopelessly inadequate response. And, the same resort to empty gestures. What is the point of the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi "‘rushing"’ to Kashmir if they cannot ensure adequate relief?

India is right in refusing international aid. We do not need it. We have more than enough supplies of medicines, food and tents. What our officials lack is the ability to respond quickly and compassionately to a crisis. And this shames us time after time after time.
Tavleen Singh hit the nail in the head when she derived the implication of NYTimes article - "How dare India get so uppity". This is not the first time I have seen western press biased against India. Perhaps India, out of pride or a planned political move, underestimated the gravity of the matter and refused the aid, but to imply that everything is alright on the Pakistani side due to international aid is ludicrous. As I understand, the hilly terrain in PoK is inaccessible to such an extent that the aid hasn't reached many areas till now (Balakot is not a part of PoK, it's quite accessible & well connected). But for the jehadi militants working in the area, who worked hard to help the victims, no aid has reached those areas.

But as Tavleen pointed out, the blame has to be put on Indian government too. Why isn't there a decent crisis-management plan? Why does it take us so long to help and rescue the victims? She summed it up well with - "What our officials lack is the ability to respond quickly and compassionately to a crisis."


Murali Menonm said...

nice blog. Keep it up

Namit Chaturvedi said...

Guess we can put up the picutres from a week after Hurricane Katrina, with a caption like "American side: Still waiting for Washington to realise that Katrina happened!"

Pankaj Jain said...

that will surely attract attention. may be the paranoids(Americans) will try to close down Jaat Boys blogs. U see the whole world is out to get them. As if they have anything worth the protection they give themselves.