Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Rushdie on the Flagging Earthquake Relief Effort

Rushdie has a piece in the November 8 Toronto Star on Pakistan earthquake relief. He makes what I see as a particularly important point about the need to separate the humanitarian effort from ongoing political strife as much as possible:

[T]he people of Kashmir deserve better than they are getting. They certainly do not deserve to be subjected to a kind of "political test" of aid-worthiness. Yet, ever since the day of the earthquake, people in the United States and Europe have been asking me and many others the same politically loaded question:

Will the disaster "help?" Will it enable India and Pakistan to sink their differences and, at long last, to make an end of their long Kashmiri quarrel?

It has been hard to avoid the conclusion that Western attitudes toward aiding Kashmir depend to some degree on the answer to this question being "yes." Alas, the answer is "no."

India and Pakistan are still mired in mutual suspicion, as the saga of the Indian helicopters reveals: India offered them, but Pakistan refused to accept them unless they were flown by Pakistani pilots, which India in turn refused to accept. Meanwhile the quake victims went right on dying.

Moreover, as the recent murder of a moderate Kashmiri politician showed, and as the bombs in Delhi would seem to confirm, there are Islamist groups who remain determined to sabotage any improvement in Indo-Pakistani relations.

As long as those groups find sanctuary in Pakistan, a peace settlement will be impossible.

All of which should be irrelevant to the matter at hand.

Yes. It doesn't matter if it doesn't help the peace process one bit. Our obligation to those in need remains the same whether peace is imminent or war is about to break out.


Mendi O. said...

I shouldn't be shocked, but because I haven't heard people asking this question I am taken aback. How can we weigh political questions like these before deciding to aid in recovering from a natural disaster?

10:02 AM  
Suvendra Nath Dutta said...

To be entirely fair to the people asking, I frequently try to find out the efficiency of an agency before giving them money. Then I try to find out their religious, philosophical positions. Their long term goals, etc.

For example I refuse to give money to Red Cross, Red Crescent or Oxfam. MSF I swear by. For Pakistan I've been giving money to the UN. Yes, I know they fail the efficiency test, but as a sort of governmental agency the "inefficiencies" are going to the locals. This seems not so terribly harmful to me. This relates to Vikash Singh's comments. I feel less worked up about his complaints on the way aid is being handled in Sri Lanka compared to the deathly silence in the media (both here and in India) on the aftermath or the quake. Yes, it may be going into the black market, but after all its just the local economy right? Is it all that bad?

10:14 AM  
Kanya said...

Wait, what's wrong with OXfam and Red Cross, both organizations of a very different type. For Katrina relief, Red Cross won hands down. I had a friend email me from her drowned neighbourhood to say that they were the real deal. Do you mean in South Asia?

1:10 PM  
vk said...

It is not all bad if the money goes into the local black market, except if said black market is controlled by terrorist front organizations. The difficulty is that in PoK, the local "charity" organizations tend to be fronts for the Lashkar E Toiba and its friends. They were also pretty badly hit by the earthquake (one of the few good things that happened) and they are very likely to be the ones cornering relief aid. They are also pretty open about their presence in the region (see for e.g the gushing articles in Reuters and NYT about their "humanitarian" role).

India did a very nice thing by offering relief, but there is no way that the Pakistani Army is going to let any Indians into PoK - the logistics of the terrorist organizations based there would be known to all. I like the fact that we set up relief camps on the border.

I agree with you though, that given the choices, I would rather give money to the U.N .

2:30 PM  
Suvendra Nath Dutta said...


My problem with Oxfam and Red Cross (or Crescent) are their religious affiliations. I prefer to give to secular organizations like MSF, ASHA, CRY etc. or to "governmental" organizations like the UN (or even the Clinton-Bush fund raisers).

4:50 PM  
Mendi O. said...

Well, it seems that the question wasn't being asked in order to find out if giving the *relief* would help people dealing with the disaster, but rather whether having the disaster itself would help the political situation. That is a very different question.

1:03 AM  
indiacorporatewatch said...

This post has been removed by the author.

2:56 AM  
indiacorporatewatch said...

From what I have read the Hizbul Mujahideen and all its other front
outfits were
actually carrying out a better relief work
than the government of both countries
and in the process winning over the trust and faith of the people
and people here are actually very insensitive to the Kashmir Quake

The have big plans of recruiting the orphans and the dillusioned in their holy war

The cycle goes on

3:20 AM  
Genealogy Spice said...

Great post Amardeep! I wish I had something profound to add but you definitely covered it all. Nonetheless I offer some rambling thoughts....

India-Pakistan relations, despite the thaw, continue to present their own challenges. As someone of Pakistani origin, it's been both difficult and saddening to read the comments, including those on your blog, following the blasts in New Delhi primarily because the bulk of those seemed to me to write off an entire nation because of the suspected act of a certain group of people. Perhaps it's my own feelings for a nation I call home that get in the way of me acknowledging those to be true....that's probably both a strength and a weakness. I recall similar sentiments being voiced on the Pakistani side when Karachi was plagued with ethnic riots so I do understand the place where it comes from.

But as you point out, this is clearly not the time. Not to say that it might not be part of the political processes in both countries but as far as the relief efforts are concerned it seems irrelevant as both you and Rushdie have put it.

Yes I too thought it strange when President Musharraf, in the earliest days after the earthquake hit, turned down India's offer to help with the relief effort. Not just strange but it made me furious - it simply did not make sense to play politics. On the other hand, as I saw other interviews on TV, particularly BBC world, and continued with my own research on the India-Pakistan conflict I came to understand that some individuals would have later blamed the government for the same action that saved their lives. Of course I'm grossly oversimplifying here and these are issues that require a deeper understanding of how notions of self-other are constructed in the India-Pakistan context that don't just flatten how difference is conceived but highlight and trace all the complexities, ambiguities, and contradictions that characterize relations between the two countries.

But I digress. I concur that now is the time to help the people in need. The way I see it, if any elements within Pakistan were involved in the terrorist attacks in New Delhi then they clearly do NOT embody the spirit of being Pakistani. If they justify their hatred by referring to a sense of Pakistani-ness then they seem to be clearly misguided. Let's leave this aspect out of the relief efforts....not that it should be shelved because those who committed this heinous act should be tried for their crimes. Resolving this matter should be divorced from the context of the relief efforts. However, I also recognize that it's become a part of the discourse on India-Pakistan relations in a way that is inseparable.

So I guess I'm wondering how we commit to working through it?

9:39 AM  

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