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Asian Earthquake disaster
Poorest areas of towns and villages suffer most
I HAVE been in Bagh, a city in Jammu and Kashmir. I arrived with a truckload of aid from workers and trade unionists in Lahore. This is just one of five trucks of aid we collected in Lahore, three for Kashmir and another two for North West Frontier Province.
Khalid Bhatti, Trade Union Rights Campaign, (TURCP) and Socialist Movement Pakistan
The truck I came in had a banner on the front of it identifying it as coming from the Trade Union Rights Campaign and Socialist Movement Pakistan. The latter banner got a lot of interest as it entered Kashmir because it was the first truck with a socialist banner on it from Pakistan. We brought food, clothes, drinking water and blankets.
This area is completely devastated and people are still searching and fighting for the basic needs of survival. It is very difficult to say exactly how many people died here but one can easily guess that 25%-30% of the population has perished in the devastation that visited this area.
Basically, people are asking for tents - that is their main need so that they can take shelter from the gathering winter cold. Still, there are many areas in the mountains where the people have got no help whatsoever. The government has claimed that they have reached almost all the areas but this is not true - there are many areas around here which have seen no government or central administration. It is mainly volunteers from different parts of Kashmir with food, medicines and blankets and shelter that have been delivering aid.
The devastation we have seen so far on the mountains is far worse than anything we have seen. In some villages there is not a single house which has not been damaged and in some, all houses have been flattened.
In the city of Bagh there are a few buildings standing, some hotels and other buildings. But one thing is clear, all the areas where the rich live - in cities like Rawalakot - look as though they have not been touched by the earthquake. This is because they were built carefully and with good building materials. In some of these areas not a single brick is cracked.
The government has tried to cover this up and has said that all areas were affected equally. There are still no state or government officials in this region, so there is a lot of chaos and panic.
Many roads are still blocked and not accessible. While some people in the towns have food and are even storing it now, those in the mountains are dying from starvation. There is no planning or strategy by the government about how to help people.
Incredibly, the government is proposing to move the capital of Pakistani Occupied Kashmir to Islamabad (the federal capital of Pakistan itself) and is also planning to bring in civil service bureaucrats to run the reconstruction effort in Kashmir.
These two measures alone will cause uproar. As a result of government failures the tensions around the national question had already begun to rise. But they will skyrocket if the government implements these plans and there will be a sharp rise in nationalism.
One thing is certain, there is huge anger and people are very angry with the government's inaction. Last night when I came here in Bagh there was a demonstration of over 500 people against the government who were demanding tents and not charity. This mood will continue to grow. As the shock of the loss of relatives recedes (and there are between 7-9 deaths in each family at least), then this anger will intensify.
TURCP members are organising a relief centre and also one which can re-unite all the trade unionists and political workers in the town. In the near future our members think that there will be a sharp rise in nationalism and we think it is important to put forward a class alternative when this happens.
Therefore the donations that have already been made are very important. These funds will make the task of providing aid and the resources to campaign in the interests of the working class and the trade unions much easier in these difficult times.
Appeal from the Trade Union Rights Campaign
MANY AID agencies will be collecting funds over the next weeks. Unfortunately this will be distributed by the same corrupt government whose policies increased the death toll.
Azad Qadri, Organising Secretary, Trade Union Rights Campaign - Pakistan, and Khalid Bhatti, National Organiser Trade Union Rights Campaign - Pakistan, sent us this appeal
The TURCP is appealing for trade unionists to make donations which will go directly to help workers and fellow trade unionists on the ground.
The money will also be used to build and rebuild trade unions in affected areas as well as to organise campaigns to ensure that the rebuilding efforts are carried out in the interests of the working class and poor peasants and to ensure that big business does not profit out of peoples' suffering.
All donations will be acknowledged and regular reports will be sent out explaining how donations are being used. Our campaign has set up a bank account in London, Britain for the collection of funds outside Asia.
Please make all cheques payable to 'TURCP' and send them to Trade Union Rights Campaign Pakistan, PO Box 52135, London E9 5WR, Britain. Or alternatively send the money by Bank Transfer to: TURCP, account number: 00574699, sort code: 30-95-03, Lloyds TSB, 797-799 High Road Leytonstone.
If you are sending a bank transfer please send an email to email@example.com giving details of the transfer or alternatively by post to the above address.
The following unions in Pakistan have backed the campaign: Railway Workers Union workshops, PTCL joint workers action committee, PTCL Lions union, Postal Employees union, Muthida Labour Federation, Informal sector workers organisation, Teachers union, commercial workers union Lahore, RMS Employees union, Pakistan state life staff union, Agriculture workers union.
The Trade Union Rights Campaign - Pakistan was set up in April 2005 to help coordinate solidarity and support for workers' struggles against downsizing, privatisation, and the neo-liberal agenda of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund which is followed slavishly by the Musharraf government in Pakistan.
We are trade union leaders and activists who have organised ourselves on a radical fighting platform to oppose the massive attacks against Pakistani workers by the government and the big companies which dominate the economy.
The neo-cons' new war.... against nature!
SOME 'NEO-CONS' in the US are dreaming of a new war to follow those on drugs and terror: Next, A War Against Nature. (Robert D Kaplan, New York Times, 12 October)
Kaplan boasts that the US has supplied military helicopters, reconnaissance and heavy-lifting equipment to Kashmir and Pakistan to help with the earthquake disaster. In reality, as eyewitness reports in The Socialist testify, the US failed to mobilise its 100-plus helicopters stationed in neighbouring Afghanistan. It has stood by as tens of thousands of poor people died and millions have been left stranded without adequate food and shelter.
This neo-con has the gall to use the Asian tsunami last December, hurricane Katrina in the US and the 2003 earthquake in Bam, Iran, as examples of the US military's humanitarian role. Yet in all these cases, working-class and poor people were left abandoned to their fate by incompetent local and national authorities, while international relief was marked by bungling and corruption.
Kaplan's priority, however, is not relief but control. He shows his contempt for ordinary people: "The first effect of the earthquake in the Pakistani town of Muzaffarabad was widespread looting - just as in New Orleans. Relief aid is undermined unless those who would help the victims can mobilise the use of force. That requires troops."
Where is the evidence of widespread looting? The people of Pakistan and Kashmir have been left to fend for themselves in a catastrophic situation. The vast majority of 'looting' in New Orleans involved people taking water, food and essential medicines to survive.
Kaplan's distorted view includes the delusion that troops in Iraq will be freed up as stability is secured, meaning that, "there will be more capacity for operations that provide significant diplomatic benefits". Firstly, US troop levels look set to remain high in Iraq for the foreseeable future. What is clearly meant here, however, is that humanitarian aid can be used as a political tool to reinforce the power of US capitalism around the globe.
The 'war against nature' is, in reality, an extension of the 'war on terror'. Kaplan calls for increased special forces operations along the Afghan border and infiltration of tribal groups. Relief is part of his cynical plan: "It's the classic counter-insurgency model: winning without firing a shot. And it's what the future of the American military will be increasingly about."
It is a rehash of 'hearts and minds' operations which inevitably boil down to brutal repression in the end. It is another reason why aid in disaster areas must be controlled by local working-class and poor people, by workers' organisations and democratic and accountable committees.
In The Socialist 20 October 2005: