Friday, October 28, 2005

The Earthquake, Aid and the Military

I just happened to watch the news on GEO. The main story they carried was about the UN declaring that it needs an immediate amount of $250 million, if it is to continue its relief operations beyond the coming week. This left me baffled.

I can understand the reluctance of the international community to provide direct aid to the government and its associated agencies- but why the reluctance to provide to the UN? The UN happens to be an autonomous international body which is trying its level best to save more than a million lives - yet the world seems oblivious to it all. Admittedly, large pledges were made at the Geneva meet two days ago. Still the UN says that it has only received 20% of the international pledge made. Why? Is it just lack of concern? Hesitation? Or just delay? Would delayed help be any help?

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On a slightly different note: Owing to the deep entrenchment of the military in the mainstream politics of the country- it is kind of expected that the military ends up playing a very prominent role in the relief operations. It is therefore interesting to note the opposing outlooks of the print and electronic media on this.

On the same newshour - both GEO and Aaj carried stories profiling the relief operations that have been undertaken by the military. From tent-hospitals and langars at Muzaffarabad to the tent Higher Secondary School at Batal to opening blocked roads, re-establishing communication links to reaching deep inside the mountains on mules- there is no dearth of stories that highlight the role of the military in these trying times.

But then you come across pieces like this one. Ayaz Amir is somewhat of an anti-establishment person, but more than often I find myself agreeing with his analysis. Yet, I wonder here- how much flak does the military truly deserve? It does seem to be doing everything its can dictated by the need sof the hour- yet we do criticise. True, there will be incidents where the criticism is warranted but are we making a habit out of it? Stereotyping it in a negative and unhelpful light? And yesterday I happened to read this. In particular:

We had three trucks and no sound method of distribution. The options included getting the help of the army. All vehemently rejected this particular option. The army was inefficient, uncaring and too apathetic, they said. We had all seen the image of a slumbering colonel on a pile of blankets.

It was decided to leave the trucks in the care of a prominent local. After all, we assured ourselves, no one could say we hadn’t tried. And yet the seeds of doubt remained, fostered by growing rumours of hoarding by unscrupulous men. After a sleepless night, we all decided to return. We set off in a mood of gloomy foreboding. There was an increasing atmosphere of panic over reports of looting, a sense of pessimism that it was all in vain. It now seemed a hopeless cause, for who could help a nation without protectors, a nation intent on self-destruction? Someone again feebly suggested turning to the army. Again the option was ruled out.

We were to change our tune very shortly....We drove to the Mansehra army relief camp with fearful misgivings about what lay ahead... However, the officers on duty readily agreed to meet us....

...Hesitantly we approached the officers. They heard out our sorry tale and understood our desire to distribute the goods on a personal scale. In fact they made us a magnificent offer; we could come the next morning and witness the relief operation for ourselves. When they saw our surprise at their helpfulness, they asked some shrewd questions. Sheepishly we confessed to our negative thoughts.

Upon hearing our doubts they seemed resigned rather than surprised. A campaign of negative propaganda had been launched regarding the army efforts. This was eroding the meagre remains of a cynical nation's confidence in its defenders. We interviewed the colonel who had been photographed while asleep. The explanation was moving and brought tears to our eyes.

The men had been working tirelessly since morning supervising the rescue operations. Helicopters were bringing in an endless number of wounded victims and survivors. One helicopter brought in a little child of two years.

He described her saying: "I have never in all my life seen a more beautiful little girl. To my horror the surgeon who had examined her had detected gangrene in her hand. To prevent further infection her hand had to be amputated instantly. As a soldier you become familiar with the faces of death and I have seen numerous jawans die before my eyes. But somehow the sight of this exquisite little child losing her hand was more than I could bear. A sense of faintness overcame me and I leant back against a pile of blankets and closed my eyes. After all I am human. That unguarded moment was recorded by a foreign reporter."...


The account does tilt a little towards emotionalism, but I do think it does get one or two things right.

Also howcome the newsreports potray the role of the military in a positive light - yet the critique of their role is pretty grim and almost ruthless. Makes me wonder even if their best would be good enough. Probably not. Someone has to take the hit.