Archive article from The Socialist Issue 413
Asian earthquake disaster
The politics of relief: political manoeuvres begin
THERE HAS been a vigorous response by working class people in Pakistan and Kashmir to help the victims and those affected by the devastating earthquake in these regions. Volunteers from all over the country reached the affected areas where the Pakistani army still does not operate at full capacity.
Azad Qadri and Khalid Bhatti, Trade Union Rights Campaign, Pakistan (TURCP)
Trade unions in Pakistan and Kashmir have donated generously. But still there are many political parties which are using relief effort to make political gains for themselves.
Islamic parties and groups are using relief to get support in local communities. The armed reactionary Islamic groups have not only resurfaced but are also freely operating, portraying themselves as the best providers of aid.
Banned organisations and groups, like Lashkar-e-Taibah (now Jamat al Dawah, an extreme Wahabi hard-line Islamic group) and Albadar Mujahideen (an armed group linked with Jamat-e-Islami) are trying to get maximum publicity.
These armed groups have a history of killing and attacking left-wing political activists, trade unionists and students. Their open activities in Kashmir and North West Frontier Province (NWFP) will pose a great threat to left wing political workers and students.
The parties of the ruling class of Kashmir and Pakistan are also busy in this attempt to use provision of earthquake aid to buy political support.
There is a clear indication of a covert election campaign in the earthquake areas. President Musharraf's regime in Pakistan wants to improve the fading image of the army, and so the official TV channels and media are busy in a propaganda campaign.
The Musharraf regime has refused to learn anything from this tragedy and they still continue the same mistaken policies of using army officers at every level in the relief and rehabilitation work. This is despite the fact that the army tops failed miserably to respond when the earthquake first happened.
Behind the scenes there is tension between the generals and the ruling elite of Kashmir over who should get the maximum share in the reconstruction process.
Tension has already developed between the provincial government of NWFP, led by the alliance of religious Islamic parties (MMA), and the Musharraf administration. The provincial government demands 50% share of the aid.
These sorts of tensions can give rise to increased nationalism in Kashmir and NWFP and lead to greater demands for autonomy and independence.
The ruling elite in these regions will use this nationalist sentiment, which arises from the oppression and discrimination against the national and ethnic minorities that live in the region.
Elections are due next year in Pakistani Occupied Kashmir and in Pakistan in 2007. So the power and prestige of all the big political parties is at stake. All the big players want to get maximum electoral support for their relief efforts.
Jamat-e-Islami in Kashmir and NWFP are clearly involved in these manoeuvres. They have already stockpiled a huge amount of aid to be used in coming months to get electoral support.
However, these parties pose no alternative to the continuation of capitalism and the grip of the feudal lords. They are concentrating heavily in Bagh, because they previously won a seat in this area, the only one they ever won in Kashmir.
The leaders of the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in Kashmir are also using the aid sent by working class people from Pakistan to get votes. They have kept back supplies to use later to boost their political popularity.
Opposition to armed groups
Members of the Trade Union Rights Campaign Pakistan and Kashmir have intervened on four occasions to stop dozens of armed men from a religious group who tried to force the loaded aid trucks arriving in Bagh to go to their camp. They wanted to distribute the aid, claiming it was their "aid to the people".
These trucks were destined for the rural areas. When TURC members intervened to stop the armed group taking the supplies, local people also gathered and opposed the armed groups. TURC members, with the help of local people, forced armed groups to leave the area.
Many parties and religious groups are not fairly sharing out aid. They are distributing it among their supporters and giving very little to poor peasants and workers.
A working-class alternative is needed to change this system of greed and exploitation. This capitalist system uses destruction and misery to carry out widespread corruption and to make money for the few, at the expense of the many.
This earthquake, a 'natural disaster', exposed the horrors of capitalist society. The disaster poses the need to change this rotten system and replace it with socialism.
Workers' Relief and Rehabilitation Committee formed in Bagh city
MEMBERS OF the Trade Union Rights Campaign Pakistan (TURCP) formed a committee to carry out relief and rehabilitation work, alongside their union rights and political campaign. A five-member organising committee was elected, which includes Azad Qadri, Sattar Advocate, Shaukat Taimure, and Jabar.
The committee will organise all the relief and political work in Bagh. Its formation is a big step forward towards bringing together trade union activists and left political workers to coordinate and organise political work and campaigning.
Last night, TURCP and Trade Union Rights Campaign Kashmir (TURC) members brought a truck load of blankets, food and clothes to two villages desperately in need. The relief efforts of TURCP and TURC have provided food, blankets and medicines to more than 5,000 people in Kashmir and North West Frontier Province (NWFP). We aim to form committees like this in other areas devastated by the earthquake.
Azad Qadri, national organising secretary, Trade Union Rights Campaign Pakistan (TURCP)
Asian earthquake disaster
THE EARTHQUAKE disaster in Pakistan and the occupied territories of Jammu and Kashmir is being compounded by the inadequate, uncoordinated and politically corrupt relief effort.
It is as if the aid and reconstruction failures of the major world powers and the local elites after the recent disasters in Bam (Iran) and the Asian tsunami never happened.
Currently, only a fraction of the pledged financial aid has materialised; stores of tents, sleeping bags and blankets lie stuck in airports; too few helicopters are being deployed to reach the affected areas that are inaccessible by road.
This is another example of capitalism failing millions of people. As usual it has fallen onto ordinary workers and poor people to respond to human needs. (see below)
In contrast to the incapabilities of capitalism, a socialist society would be able to utilise democratic planning to respond rapidly, with adequate physical and human resources to save lives, tend to survivors and begin immediate reconstruction.
Aid - a system failure
AN ESTIMATED 50,000-100,000 people have been killed and up to 3 million are homeless. Chris Lom of the International Office of Migration said there was a shortfall of up to 200,000 tents, required to house those displaced by the earthquake.
UN emergency relief chief, Jan Egeland said only $86 million had been pledged of the $312 million the UN had asked for to fund the relief operation - and far less actually received in hard cash. The Pakistan government says it needs about $5 billion to rebuild devastated areas.
A study published by Charities Oxfam and Action Aid in March 2005 said that only 20% of global aid reaches the world's poorest. And only half of this is spent on basic services such as health and education. The report described this aid system as "uncoordinated, self-serving and hypocritical..."
While the capitalist powers spend £712 billion a year on weapons, one in six children go hungry, one in seven have no healthcare.
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