Valley of Death

Md. Sadiq
31 October 2005

Many parts of Kashmir both on Pakistan side and Indian side were devastated by a 7.6 magnitude earthquake on Saturday, 8 October 2005. It caused widespread destruction in many areas in both India and Pakistan. According to the latest estimates around 73,276 people died, while around 69,260 people were seriously injured and about 2.5 million people had been rendered homeless in Pakistan.


The final figures are yet to be declared. The worst-affected city was Muzaffarabad, capital of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK), where 70 per cent of the entire housing was destroyed. Muzaffarabad was the epicentre of the earthquake. POK was the most affected region in Pakistan, but the regions in and around POK were also affected. In North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan around 14,000 people lost their lives. The earthquake has affected around 5.1 million people living in 665,795 housing units in seven districts of POK and NWFP. The terrain and non-availability of relief materials are posing challenges for the government and the relief workers. Most of the infrastructure and communication facilities have been destroyed. The major arterial roads are not usable and the majority of the relief work is dependent on helicopters.

The world community have come forward with aid worth millions of dollars. Materials, food and volunteers from several countries are pouring into Pakistan to help the needy. The international community have extended their helping hand to Pakistan generously. The United Nations, on 11 October 2005, launched a Flash appeal for approximately US $272 million for Pakistan, in response to the earthquake. The UN`s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, issued an urgent appeal for more helicopters to Pakistan. The major aid providers are USA, Saudi Arabia, EU, China, Britain, Japan, Iran and many others. Around $528 million out of which $ 330 million by various countries and $106 million by international organizations were promised for relief and rehabilitation work in Pakistan, where as $41 million by NGOs. Various countries pledged a sum of $1.929 billion, goods, service charges and medicines worth $1.112 billion, grants and food aid pledges worth $70 million, soft credit pledges worth $747 million and $122 million pledged against the UN flash appeal. The US military is providing manned and unmanned reconnaissance aircraft as well as satellite imagery to help Pakistan to evaluate the extent of destruction in the mountainous areas. At least 18 foreign helicopters, including those from the US are aiding the Pakistani army in relief operations. Various relief agencies are coordinating with the Pakistani military in carrying out the relief operations. Pakistan require about $10 to 12 billion for reconstruction of the earthquake affected areas.

Till date India has dispatched three consignments of relief materials to Pakistan. The first one on 11 October 2005, followed by one on 14 October 2005 and on 17 October 2005. The second and third consignment were sent by train through the Wagah-Attari border post. Several Indian organisations and activists who tried to join the earthquake relief operations in Pakistan, were denied visas by the Pakistani government. The proposal put forward by India for carrying out joint relief operations was waved off by Pakistan. India agreed to allow Pakistani helicopters to fly in the no fly zone close to the Line of Control (LOC) for carrying out the relief work. However India has asked Pakistan to notify her of each and every sorties conducted by Pakistan's helicopters.

There has been intelligence reports that several militant groups have lost hundreds of fighters in the earthquake. Jamaat-ud-Dawa formerly Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) suffered more than 100 deaths, including 40 pupils of an Islamic seminary who perished when a building collapsed in Muzaffarabad. Many of Jamaat`s schools and mosques were destroyed in the earthquake.

Losses on Indian side
On the Indian side massive destructions occurred in the areas that lies close to the Line of Control (LOC) and which is also close to the epicentre of the earthquake. The worst affected areas are Tangdhar, Keran and Karnah in Kupwara district and Uri in Baramulla district. The death count reached 755 with Baramulla and Kupawara alone accounting for 469 and 259 deaths.Twenty-six security personnel, including 21 Army jawans, were killed and scores of others injured as the massive earthquake damaged bunkers and barracks along the Line of Control in Baramulla, Kupwara and Poonch districts of Jammu and Kashmir. Government of India announced an ad hoc assistance of Rs 100 crores besides the Rs 42 crore from the national calamity relief fund for Jammu and Kashmir. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced Rs 500 crores as relief to Jammu and Kashmir, which is in addition to the assistance announced earlier. Indian army carries out the major rescue and relief operations in the state due to the rugged terrain. The Srinagar-Muzaffarabad road will remain closed for at least two months after massive landslides triggered by earthquake wiped out a large stretch of the road. Two moderate tremors measuring 5.2 and 5.4 on the Richter scale rattled Jammu and Kashmir within a span of seven hours on 14 October 2005. The final body count is yet to be released. On 15 October 2005, Tangdhar one of the worst affected areas received its first snowfall of the season.

The onset of winter in Kashmir is posing another hurdle for carrying out relief work on both sides of Kashmir. The lack of proper shelter and adequate warm clothing would prove to be difficult for the already affected people, especially the old and children. However as the relief work gains more access to the isolated areas on both sides of Kashmir the number of deaths are likely to increase. The affected areas would take years for reconstruction and to bring back normalcy of life.

Terrorism on rise
Despite the heavy losses of life and property in Jammu and Kashmir, the acts of terrorism have not come down in the valley. On 9 October 2005 militants carried out attacks in Rajouri district, killing ten hindus and a muslim. No militant organisation claimed responsibility for the massacre, however security sources suspect it to be the handiwork of Hizbul Mujahideen Pir Panchal Regiment (HMPPR) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). In another incident police arrested one Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT militant from Gool area in dhapur district in 10 October 2005. The arrested militant was identified as Mushtaq Ahmed Lone. Army foiled an attempt by a group of militants to infiltrate into the Indian side of Kashmir on 12 October 2005, killing all the eight militants near the Line of Control in Kupwara sector. A woman suicide bomber blew herself up on the Srinagar - Jammu national highway at Awantipora on 13 October 2005. The blast occurred at 11:30 am, but no casualties were reported. Pakistan based Jaish-e-Mohammad, claimed that the woman was a suicide bomber of its women's wing - Banati Ayesha (daughter of Ayesha). In a major terrorist attack on the security forces, two territorial army jawans were killed and seven others were injured when Lashkar-e-Taiba militants attacked the battalion headquarters of the 158 Territorial army at Kalibari in Kathua district in Jammu and Kashmir on 16 October 2005. The soldiers were returning to their barracks after their morning training. In another incident of terrorist attack, a prominent CPI (M) leader, Ghulam Nabi Ganai, was shot dead by militants in Anantnag district on 17 October 2005. He was shot outside a local mosque near his house at Seer-Hamdan village of Mattan. Two militant groups Al Mansoorian and Islamic Jihad Front, in separate telephone statements claimed responsibility for the attacks. The incidents of terrorist attacks have gone up after the earthquake in the valley.

Terrorists Involved in Relief Work
The failure of the Pakistani establishment to initiate rapid rescue and relief operations in the immediate aftermath of the devastating earthquake of 8 October 2005 allowed banned militant outfits to play the role of the saviour in order to boost their declining support base in Pakistan. Reports indicated that for the first few days after the earthquake, a paranoid Pakistan army was primarily involved in rebuilding its positions along the Line of Control (LoC), fearing a highly unlikely Indian invasion. Media reports revealed that thousands of Pakistani troops, on their way to rebuild positions on the LoC, ignored devastated villages in the Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) area and bypassed them without making any effort to rescue those who were alive in the debris. Though Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf later denied these reports, it was evident that banned outfits undertook rescue and relief work in earthquake-affected areas. Analysts say that the relief work undertaken by these outfits could translate into greater popular support for their jihad in Kashmir.

First rescuers
Paul Watson, a reporter with the Los Angeles Times (LAT), filed a report from Saloona village in which he stated that for the first six hours after the earthquake struck, villagers were trying desperately to rescue those who were trapped in the debris. The first rescue team to arrive on the scene was not from the Pakistan administration, but a group of 15 militants from a nearby training camp hidden in the forests above Saloona. The militants reportedly brought their own medics who provided emergency treatment to the injured. The militants rescued several villagers and also dug graves for those who had perished in the earthquake.

The LAT report was based on interviews of several villagers and militants in earthquake-affected PoK and North West Frontier Province (NWFP). The report raises questions about President Pervez Musharraf's repeated assurances to the United States that he has dismantled militant training camps on Pakistani territory. India, which has borne the brunt of the terror emanating from Pakistani terror camps, has said on several occasions that Musharraf has not kept his promise made in the January 2002 speech in which he pledged to crack down on militant outfits operating in Pakistan. The fact that it was militant outfits which undertook organised rescue and relief activities after the earthquake clearly establishes that a disciplined and well organised network of guerrilla groups continues to function within Pakistan. Some of these groups also have close links with Osama bin Laden's Al Qaida and the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan.

The LAT report quotes villagers from the Neelum Valley as saying that militants from a camp run by the Al Badr Mujahideen were the first ones to respond to the earthquake, which killed 17 people in Saloona and injured four others. One of the injured was a young boy who told the reporter that militants had tended to his broken ankle after rescuing him from the rubble of his home. The Al Badr is reportedly comprised of several hundred militants and is considered to be behind a number of attacks in Indian Kashmir. The outfit reportedly had a camp on Tanglai mountains for six to seven years. Despite the fact that India and the US have declared the Al Badr to be a terrorist outfit, it is not on Pakistan's list of 16 banned militant groups. In fact, observers say that most of those outfits banned by Musharraf continue to operate without any restrictions as they have changed their name. Though the militants normally keep to themselves, villagers say that they have always come to help whenever it was required. Twenty-five year old Abdul Rehman of Bhaibela village said that the militants are generally busy with their own work (training) and do not disturb the villagers. Though the militant outfit provided immediate relief items including medicines, the villagers said that the tents provided by the militants leaked. Villagers told the LAT reporter that on the day of the earthquake, two militants from the Al Badr camp had visited the village to survey the damage. These militants later returned with two canvas tents and medics who treated the injured. They also distributed some medicines and continued to visit the villager for the next three-four days even though they had reportedly suffered losses at their camps in the forests. The Al Badr has been involved in several clashes with Indian security forces in the summer of 2005. In July this year, Al Badr militants were involved in the kidnapping of five civilians who were later found dead on the outskirts of Srinagar, summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. In February this year, Al Badr had claimed responsibility for an attack on a government building in Srinagar in which five people, including two militants, had died.

Pakistani investigators have also linked the Al Badr to the July 2003 suicide bombing of a minority Shiite Muslim mosque in the southern Pakistani city of Quetta. Over 50 people had died in that suicide attack. While that attack generated resentment against Al Badr, the outfit reportedly enjoys a strong reputation in the earthquake-affected areas where the people resent the army and the government. Locals have also said that the only soldiers they saw in the aftermath of the earthquake were on their way to somewhere else. This corroborates reports which said that Pakistani soldiers were initially sent to the LoC to rebuild their positions.

Reports indicated that several of the militant outfits banned by the Musharraf government were involved in rescue and relief work in thousands of villages isolated by landslides. The Pakistan army took more than ten days to reach these far off villagers. However, militants of the banned Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) of Maulana Masood Azhar had trekked along dirt tracks to deliver food, medicine and other items to survivors of the earthquake in these villages. The LAT reporter had interviewed a JeM militant, Muaz, who said that a group of 14 militants had delivered relief to Parian, a town flattened by the earthquake. Militant outfits, despite suffering losses in the earthquake, regrouped quickly to arrange for rescue and relief support for affected villagers. In Muzaffarabad, capital of PoK, the earthquake had destroyed the offices of the Jamaatud Dawa, which under its earlier nomenclature of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) was banned by the Musharraf government in January 2002. The LeT lost over 70 of its militants in Muzaffarabad. A leader of the underground outfit, Maulana Abdul Aziz Alvi, said that the group had taken a severe blow in the earthquake. Despite suffering losses in the earthquake, the Jamaat's members set up several medical relief camps across PoK where over 100 doctors of the outfit treated the injured. Volunteers from the Jamaat were the first ones to offer aid to the badly-hit Bagh, Rawalkot, Abbotabad and other affected areas. Media reports witnesses saying that about a dozen young militants brought food, medicine, blankets and drinking water for shell-shocked locals, arriving days ahead of government relief teams and even the Pakistan Army.

The Hizbul Mujahideen, considered to the largest militant outfit comprised of indigenous Kashmiris, had also set up relief camps in PoK. Saifullah Khalid, one of the Hizb coordinator at a camp in Muzaffarabad where hundreds of survivors are living, told Associated Press that his outfit was one of the first to undertake rescue and relief activities in the PoK region. Reports also indicate that having suffered losses, the militant outfits have been forced to come out of their hideouts. However, the Pakistani army is apparently least concerned about them and in several of the affected areas, the Army completely ignores the relief camps being run by the militant outfits. Speaking to Asia Times Online, a spokesperson of the Hizbul Mujahideen, Saleem Hashmi, said that most mujahideen were safe and sound. Some of the Hizb militants were in Indian Kashmir at the time of the earthquake and they were not affected. He said that the militant outfits operating in Kashmir have initiated a jihad for rehabilitating those affected by the earthquake.

Militant Outfits Fill The Space
International observers say that the failure of the Pakistan government to respond to the earthquake effectively left room for several militant groups to gain popular goodwill by being the first to reach the affected areas. Writing in The Observers, Jason Burke, an expert on Al Qaida, noted that President Pervez Musharraf’s public apology for the government’s inadequate response indicates he realises that Islamist outfits were a step ahead than his military in providing relief to the people. “Although Musharraf’s apology was out of the ordinary, the sight of a government in the Islamic world failing to deliver effective aid in a natural disaster is not,” Burke observes. In 1989, when a major earthquake struck the Tipasa region in Algeria, the official response was pathetic. In Egypt, three years later, the poorer districts of Cairo itself did not see a government official for days after a tremor killed hundreds. In Turkey, too, the civilian government and the powerful military failed lamentably after a tremor in 1999 killed nearly 20,000 and left 50,000 homeless. However, in each case there was one set of organisations that provided help swiftly and effectively: the Islamic religious groups. “So it should be no surprise that in Pakistan it was activists like those of Jamaatud Dawa, an ultra-hardline group with past links to a banned militant group (Lashkar-e-Taiba), who took up the slack,” writes Burke.

A mix of militant outfits and Islamist groups are currently involved in the rescue and rehabilitation of those affected by the devastating earthquake. Thousands of volunteers from these organisations are in the field. At some places, they are providing relief directly to the people and in other areas, they are helping Pakistani civil and military authorities in the work of relief and rehabilitation. Besides the Jamaat-i-Islami and Jamaatud Dawa, groups such as Millat-i-Islamia, Dawat-i-Islami, Tehrik Minhajul Quran, Tableeghi Jamaat, Muslim Hands, Jamiat Ahle Hadis, Islamic Relief Pakistan, Islamic Relief Organization of London, Sunni Tehrik, Al-Rasheed Trust of Karachi, Anjuman Talaba-i-Islam (Noorani group), Jamiat Talaba-i-Islam and Islami Jamiat Talaba are playing an active role in the post earthquake situation. Most of these organisations have set up their distribution points which receive supplies from their collection centres in various parts of the country. The Al-Khidmat Foundation of the Jamaat and Jamaatud Dawa have sent a large numbers of volunteers to the affected areas and set up a number of field hospitals. Jamaatud Dawa’s hospital at Muzaffarabad offers orthopaedic surgery, vaccination and other services.

Burke says that most Pakistanis view the army as an 'article of faith', the only institution which is competent and incorruptible in Pakistan. Musharraf knows this and therefore he was quick in apologising for the delay in rescue and relief efforts as he did not want the popular goodwill for the army to be affected. Burke observes that the militant outfits also understand the popular perception about the army and therefore exploited the window of opportunity provided by the devastating earthquake to generate popular support for their jihad.

Indo -Pak politics
Pakistan on 10 October 2005 ruled out joint relief operations with India in quake-hit Kashmir region and instead made a counter offer to help New Delhi in its efforts to deal with the crisis. Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Tasleen Aslam said that there is no possibility of any joint relief operations on both sides of Line of Control (LOC) as there is no population on the LOC. Indian army on 13 October 2005 clarified that its personnel crossed the Line of Control in Uri sector in response to a request from Pakistani soldiers, but said it did not reconstruct any bunkers damaged in the earthquake. The soldiers had gone across unarmed to give Pakistani soldiers picks and shovels to clear debris of some pillars of the aman setu bridge on the Pakistani side. The clarification came after Pakistan`s Defence Ministry spokesman Maj Gen Shaukat Sultan in Islamabad termed it as 'baseless' and 'untrue' about the reports that Indian troops crossed the LOC to help its soldiers reconstruct bunkers. On 17 October 2005 Foreign Secretary of Pakistan Riaz Mohammed Khan contacted his Indian counterpart Shyam Saran and said Islamabad was ready to accept Indian helicopters for relief work but without pilots and crew. But this offer was refused by India as the helicopters are in service with the armed forces and it could not be provided without its pilots and crew. However, Shayam Saran re-emphasised India's willingness to undertake relief work in villages which are close to LOC. In a latest development Pakistani President general Pervez Musharraf on 18 October 2005 said in Muzaffarabad that Pakistan was willing to allow every Kashmiri to cross the LOC to help in quake relief and reconstruction. However no formal proposal was made to India. Indian side wasted no time in welcoming this idea. This comes as a first step in coordinating the relief operations by both the sides. Both India and Pakistan are holding on to their rigid positions in extending help. Even though India has sent relief materials to Pakistan, it is not willing to fully cooperate with the Indian side, which makes the lives of those people living in the devastated areas near the LOC more and more miserable. The moderate faction of Hurriyat Conference asked both India and Pakistan to cooperate in relief and rehabilitation works in the affected areas on the both sides of LOC. On 30 October 2005, both India and Pakistan agreed to open the LOC at five points for crossing on foot by kashmiris of divided families from 7 November 2005. Five crossing points on the LOC are Nauseri-Tithwal, Chakothi-Uri, Hajipur-Uri, Rawalakot-Poonch and Tattapani-Mendhar. Relief items could be sent in either direction and handed over to local authorities on the aforementioned crossing points with prior information and acceptance and depending on feasibility.

Kashmir Politics
As the relief operations continues in the valley, the chairman of All Parties Hurriyat Conference Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, during the special prayers at Srinagar on 11 October 2005 said that it is sad that people of India have not responded to this great tragedy. He mentioned that when Lathur and Bhuj were devastated, big industrialists stepped forward to help, But no one is coming to help the people of Kashmir. On 14 October 2005 Mirwaiz said that both India and Pakistan are playing politics with earthquake relief and have missed a great opportunity to build closer ties in a time of tragedy. He said the people of Kashmir thought both countries would have risen beyond politics, but the only thing they see is both the countries are stuck on to their rigid positions. He also added that it was an opportunity for both India and Pakistan to really bridge the gap and to come closer to each other, but it has widened the gap.

Aid Flow To Kashmir
On 9 October 2005 Punjab and Haryana Governments offered around 5000 tents and 40000 blankets as part of aid to Jammu and Kashmir. Software major Infosys on 11 October 2005 announced a contribution of Rs 1 crore for the victims of earthquake in Jammu and Kashmir. Reliance Infocomm donated 1,00,000 blankets for quake victims in Jammu and Kashmir On 13 October 2005. The first lot of 50,000 blankets had already been sent and the remaining would be sent over the next few days. The company also sent a team of paramedics for medical aid to the affected people. Karnataka state government on 14 October 2005 said that it would donate relief materials worth Rs.10 crores to quake-hit Jammu and Kashmir. Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy of Andhra Pradesh flagged off relief material worth Rs.47 lakhs on 14 October 2005 for distribution to earthquake victims in Jammu & Kashmir. The State Government had earlier released Rs.2 crores for relief work, but following a request from Union Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Ghulam Nabi Azad, it airlifted 361 tents collected from the Police Department. The Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) and the Handicraft Export Promotion Council have donated donates Rs. 50 lakhs to Jammu and Kashmir while Lok Sabha Speaker contributed Rs. 25,000 . Aid amounting to Rs. 25 crores was pledged so far by industry associations and individual business leaders. Among the major commitments made were Rs. 5 crores each of donations by the CII and the FICCI in cash and kind as an immediate response to the Prime Minister's appeal.

The disaster in divided Kashmir has had a unifying effect as it has boosted steps for movement of people and material between the two regions. Both India and Pakistan have also decided to open the Line of Control at several places in order to facilitate families on both sides to reach out to each other. India has also set up relief camps along the LoC to provide services for anyone who crosses the LoC from the other side. Though it would take many years to fully rehabilitate the people of the affected regions in Kashmir, the silver lining in the disaster is the opening of the LoC at many places to allow intra-Kashmir exchange.