November Issue 2005

By | Editorial | Opinion | Published 18 years ago

If any members of the press corps, attending President Musharraf’s October 31 Iftar-cum-press conference in Islamabad expected the host to announce a cut in the defence budget or the termination of the F-16 deal to cover the colossal losses of the earthquake, they were being presumptuous.

No, said the General, security considerations were as important as relief requirements. Moreover, he argued, the defence budget, comprising 17 per cent or so of the total revenue, was only the fourth largest expense head.

The General’s views don’t exactly help redeem the army’s image, which has suffered a severe dent as a consequence of its inadequate response immediately after the earthquake. And more so in areas like Azad Kashmir, which have been of critical strategic importance.

Their excuse, that there was no way to access the calamity-stricken areas, as roads and bridges had collapsed, is contested by some reporters and NGOs who, with very limited resources at their disposal, managed to reach the affected region by the second day.

Etched in memory is the TV clip of a man trapped in a collapsed building screaming for help, while the jawans stood by — “we don’t have orders,” they told a foreign network reporter. In fact, the mullahs and the militants, with their organised rescue and relief work, came out looking better than the army. And henceforth, if there are more converts to the jihadi cause, Musharraf and his men will have only themselves to blame.

The ministers fared no better. Attired in three-piece suits or starched shalwar kameezes, they were more interested in photo opportunities than in getting their hands soiled.That was left to lesser mortals.

The earthquake exposed the massive failings of the state apparatus. There is no disaster management plan to deal with a catastrophe of this nature, no civil defence organisation equipped to do the job.This appears outrageous for a nation that shouts its nuclear capability from the rooftops but is incapable of responding to an emergency situation.

If there was a silver lining to the dark clouds that loomed overhead, it was the people of Pakistan.They emptied out their wallets and their hearts. They went in droves — doctors, engineers, architects; young, old; men, women; the common man — to the affected areas to be with the earthquake victims. Along with the dedicated band of aid workers, professionals and charities from abroad, who worked selflessly and tirelessly, they brought much needed succour to the devastated.

In that respect, Pakistan’s darkest hour was also its finest hour. Here’s to the humane spirit of the Pakistani nation — may it never die.

Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.