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Kashmir: Case For International Aid

By Zahid G. Mohammad

30 September, 2014

The catastrophe of this magnitude calls for an international aid intervention

It is not asking for alms. During natural calamities and manmade disasters people of Jammu and Kashmir have the right to get aid from the United Nations, the Organization of Islamic Conference, and other international organizations, on more than one count. The United Nations is mandated to provide relief, support and assistance when there is a disaster or a human catastrophe. It is expected to make a difference by providing assistance for health, hygiene, education and shelter to sufferers of natural disasters, floods and earthquakes. For coordinating this assistance, the Inter-Agency Standing Committee is the key player. This committee brings together all major humanitarian agencies both within and outside the UN system. 

In the history of Jammu and Kashmir September seven floods brought the worst ever natural disaster that caused devastation in almost twenty out of twenty two districts.  Infrastructure of the state, more particularly in Kashmir province, has completely crumbled. Education and health sectors are almost destroyed. Out of 12.5 million people over eight million have suffered the deluge directly and indirectly. More than 3.5 million people are worst hit.  Thousands have lost their shelters and dwellings of hundreds of thousands have become uninhabitable.   The commercial hub of thousand year old capital city of Srinagar is completely destroyed.  It looks like a war ravaged city. According to conservative tentative estimate made public by an important advocacy group in the state, the losses suffered by the state are over a trillion of rupees. The way tragedy is unfolding after receding of waters the magnitude of losses could be far, far higher than the estimated losses. In just one locality, Narbal, six hundred houses are reported to be completely destroyed.  The catastrophe of this magnitude by all stretch of imagination calls for an intervention by the United Nations and other international organizations. 

Immediately after the catastrophe the spokesperson for UN Secretary General Bani Ki-moon stated that the UN System stands ready for providing relief and assistance to people impacted by severe floods. Many international organizations have also shown their eagerness to provide relief to the deluged population and help in rehabilitating the uprooted homes. Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused allowing humanitarian aid from United Nations and other international agencies to Kashmir. 

It has not been a fair game. Minus some publicity stunts during the rescue operations and bigoted television anchors shabbily using hideous ‘Shylockian’ methods for exploiting the calamity for political advantages and changing the people’s narrative, so far neither Srinagar nor New Delhi governments have been on the ground. It were the young brave hearts of Kashmir that rescued hundreds of thousands marooned people. They provided them relief and organized temporary shelters. Surprisingly, refusing international assistance to Kashmir, Indian Prime Minister offered assistance to Pakistan for its flood victims. Interestingly, he renewed this officer in his maiden speech in UN General Assembly. In 2005 earthquake New Delhi had adopted same attitude and it had been beautifully summed up by Michael Krepon, President of Washington-based Henry L Stimson centre: “New Delhi has adopted an enlightened approach to helping Pakistan during this tragedy, and a backward approach to accepting foreign humanitarian assistance on its side of the Kashmir divide." 

Twenty two days after the floods brought destruction to the state, Srinagar and New Delhi are totally blank. It seems that the power centres are either groping in dark or deliberately ignoring rehabilitation of hundreds of thousands of people. In this hour of crisis when Srinagar had sunk and scores of villages in rural Kashmir had been washed away, the governments failed to provide even the minimum and immediate relief to the people. And whatever little relief people have been getting even on date is from the local initiatives. But in view of harsher winter ahead international intervention and support for saving further catastrophe has become imperative. The United Nations and its allied humanitarian organizations need to know that as temperature falls,   recording minus 13 degree Celsius in plains or as low as minus twenty in areas near to hills, life in Kashmir is likely to get threatened.      

New Delhi in its desire of being seen as an ‘emerging global power’ has been rejecting foreign aid’ at the cost of human sufferings in the State. It is an admitted fact that New Delhi has been putting a false prestige by refusing international aid when it comes to Jammu and Kashmir, whether it was 2005 earthquake or it is 2014 floods. The New York Times in 2005 had rightly captioned this policy as “Pride and Politics”. The people of the state have been seeing this policy as discriminatory -- smacking of petty politics. Seeking foreign assistance and aid in case of   tsunami and Uttarakhand flash floods speaks volumes about its mind-set of leadership in power. 

On December 26, 2004, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake in the Indian Ocean generated a tsunami and hit many coastal areas in India. New Delhi first rejected offers of foreign aid, and realizing magnitude of the disaster, it immediately changed it stance and announced it would accept aid from agencies like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Later on  New Delhi not only received billions of dollars as aid for rehabilitation for tsunami affected people  only from the international agencies but also from USA and many other countries.

Notwithstanding political leadership atop Raisina hills showcasing its economic power to the world and emphasizing that the country  was flush with funds to handle relief operations within the country and in the neighbourhood, it has been selectively seeking international aid during natural disasters.  In case o flash floods ravaged Uttarakhand, Government of India lost no time in approaching the World Bank and Asia Development Bank ‘for assistance for restoring housing, rural connectivity, building infrastructure and  increasing  the technical capacity of the state entities to respond promptly and effectively to an eligible crisis or emergency.’ If New Delhi government and Uttarakhand governments could seek    Millions of US dollars for Uttarakhand Disaster Recovery Project as assistance from international organization, why the same cannot be done in case of rebuilding Kashmir and devastated areas in Jammu province. And why the state government cannot seek direct assistance from international agencies as was done by the Uttarakhand government. 

There is lot of resentment in people against the government in New Delhi refusing foreign aid from the United Nations, international agencies and many other countries and adopting an ostrich like attitude towards Kashmir tragedy. It is high time for political leadership and civil society to impress upon BJP led government to lift embargo on international aid for the reconstruction of Kashmir.

(The author is a columnist based in Kashmir)

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