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Plea from across the LoC

By Sardar Usman Ali Khan
Last updated on: October 12, 2005 15:08 IST
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Sardar Usman Ali Khan, 26, the grandson of former prime minister of Pakistan occupied Kashmir, spoke to Sheela Bhatt, Managing Editor (National Affairs) about the state of PoK after the October 8 catastrophe, while he shuttled between Muzaffarabad and Islamabad.

In our Kashmir, nothing has escaped the fury of jhaljhala (earthquake).

Our beauty has been marred by one stroke of nature.

Houses, hospitals, schools, colleges, hostels, hotels, government offices... everything, just everything has been brought down by nature's fury.

Today, an Islamabad-based rehabilitation expert did a preliminary survey and said that more than $4 billion will be required to restore normalcy in Kashmir.

'That Muzaffarabad no longer exists'

My grandfather, former prime minister Sardar Muhammed Abdul Qayyum Khan, is safe and is at the moment guiding relief work in our hometown near Muzzaffarabad. In many places, landslides have been occurring since the earthquake shook us.

People are petrified. They are shell-shocked and are unable to narrate their pain.

We have seen the mountains shaking dangerously. The land below our feet was roaring. No one had seen or imagined such things. Two friends, who were standing close by when earth shook, were thrown apart by half furlong when the earth calmed down.

In our houses, fridges almost hit the ceiling first and then the walls.

Quake victims scuffle for supplies

We have heard about the tsunami and Katrina (hurricane) but nothing prepared us for such a horrifying event.

Can you believe that our land was so furiously shaken that the Neelam and Jhelum rivers were blocked by landslides? The Pakistan armymen removed what was blocking its usual flow.

The Neelam hotel in our capital now seems as if it never existed there before.

The Pakistan army too has been hit badly. A brigadier and many commanding officers have lost their lives.

Lost and alone, they cry out for help

The government has failed to respond quickly. All contingency plans have failed and for the first couple of days, hardly anything moved.

It was an appalling scene. Phones were out of order, power supply went off, wireless systems did not work as well; and the media was nowhere to be seen.

Even our prime minister and the president's staff fled to look for their family members, rendering the officials ineffective. 
Rains and hailstorms have come like a curse, hampering relief work.
But what has shocked us all the most has been the fate of our children. Hamari ek fasal khatam ho gayi (One generation has been wiped out).

No need for Indian helicopters

Many schoolchildren were among those buried alive in the October 8 catastrophe. Only 10 to 20 per cent have survived in each of the schools that came down that day. I do not think any amount of consolation can help us bear this pain. The most affected are our children.

Why was Allah so displeased with us? How did it happen?

It will take decades to get back to normalcy. Our Kashmir is buried under debris.

On Saturday, Sunday and Monday we could hear trapped people shouting for help under layers of debris. Some were giving their full identity and even names of people who can rescue them.

After the quake: Lost and Alone

But today, we did not hear any sound from them.

We want technological help to lift tonnes of debris. We need relief material to be dropped into Azad Kashmir. We want food, blankets and sleeping bags besides drinking water and milk for the few children of ours who survived the nature's adversity.

If relief does not come in soon, a few more people may die of cold and hunger.

Please tell the world we need relief. We need dua (blessings).

'Musharraf, please leave'

Please do not route everything via the government. Ask donors and agencies to come to Muzzaffarbad and open relief camps and rehabilitation camp. The government is not afraid of God. Unhe khuda ka khauf nahin hota (They do not fear God).

We would advise people not to send money. Rather they should send material and give it in people's hands. In the interior villages, pain and destruction is much more than you can think of.

What more can be said when the Pervez Musharraf, despite being the head of the state, tells journalists that he came to know about destruction caused by the earthquake through the television.

Quake in Pakistan: The sequel

Minister Sheikh Rashid told foreign journalists that Pakistan doesn't need aid. What are you talking! What kind of capabilities do you have? How can you play politics using people buried under the debris?
I must say even the Pakistani media did not understood the gravity of situation in Azad Kashmir and wrongly judged the situation for the first two days.

They kept showing an apartment which had collapsed in Islamabad. All television cameras were focused there. Only when President Musharraf came to Muzzaffarabad, relief got the needed push. The Muzzaffarabad–Kohala route, which links Kashmir to Pakistan, was started overnight after his visit.

Several Pakistanis desperate for aid

The day disaster struck, a child in a distant village had survived with severe injuries but he succumbed to his injuries because he could not get water.

People are furious... They are insecure... They are looting because anyone who does not want to die, will be forced to do so.

More than 200 villages are inaccessible and the fate of those people is not known to anyone.

The infrastructure in villages is completely flattened out.

Dead take the last ride here

On the Indian side of Kashmir many troops have been deployed. That has made the difference as rescue work there had been relatively well-organised.

Then came the Pakistan government's refusal to jointly carry out relief work with India. It could have brought about confidence building measures but trust won't come easy.

I suspect Pakistan believes that India, under the guise of relief workers, may send their intelligence officers, raising defence concerns.

'Not a house remained unaffected'

But we, Kashmiris, want help in this hour of difficulties.

Had this disaster struck Lahore, borders would have been kept wide open and aid would have been received. But I want to tell politicians that if Kashmiris survive, only then will you be able to 'fight' over Kashmir.

Lastly, I must add that ordinary Pakistanis have shown their nobility. Children and women have come forward to help us. People of Karachi and Lahore have risen to occasion and given away everything they could to express solidarity.

I thank them.

Complete Coverage: Terror from the earth

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Sardar Usman Ali Khan