Archive for October, 2005
And possibly one giant step for South Asia?
Many people are comparing the spirit of 2005 to 1965! They are right, forty years later almost to the day, the whole nation has again united as one. The odd voice raised in protest is in fact an oddity! Every setback provides an opportunity. Visited with a disaster of unimaginable magnitude, and coping with it with the combined will of the nation as one entity in bringing succour and relief to the survivors, alongwith burying the tens of thousands dead the country has now set in motion plans for the future for the living.
Last Saturday catastrophe came to Pakistan, the country was not prepared for it! Calamities always come as an unpleasant surprise. At 8.55 am on Saturday Oct 8, 2005 the region from Kabul in the west to New Delhi in the east was severely rocked. Cities as far away as Dhaka felt some tremors, the shocks went on uptil 9:05 am. Epicentered 95 kms northeast of Islamabad, the most powerful earthquake to hit this region in a 100 years was recorded at 7.6 on the Richter Scale, the main focus of death and destruction targetting northern Pakistan in a wide swath from Peshawar to Azad Kashmir. Media attention riveted the first morning on rescue efforts directed at the two collapsed blocks of “Margalla Towers” in Islamabad’s posh F-10 sector, diverting attention from the massive human and material devastation in Azad Kashmir, Kaghan and Kohistan valleys till hours later. With electricity and telephones lines down reports about a greater disaster in the mountains came in patches, e.g. 30% houses collapsed in Mansehra, 60% in Muzaffarabad, 80% in Rawalakot and Balakot etc, entire villages perched on the hillsides disappearing in mudslides. In the next 24 hours 40 aftershocks (of which only 17-18 were perceptible) added to the panic.
Foreign Minister Natwar Singh’s visit to Pakistan was an important milestone on the road to a full and lasting peace in South Asia. While the two agreements signed were not substantial in nature and the expected agreement on Siachen did not materialize, the body language was very positive and boded well for the future. While we are still skirting on the core issue of Kashmir, there is need to instill confidence in the ongoing process by showing actual progress in Siachen, Sir Creek, Baghlihar Dam, etc. Natwar Singh is no ordinary diplomat, he has first-hand knowledge of Pakistan, indeed all of South Asia. With his own considerable skills as a negotiator and inherent knowledge of the problems between Pakistan and India, his has been a very positive role in overcoming the obstacles to peace.