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Archive for November, 2005

Reinforcing Success

Hardly 40 days or so after the Oct 8 earthquake that devastated parts of NWFP and most of AK, pledges of US$ 5.8 billion have been made for the rehabilitation of the affectees, about US$ 600 million more than the estimated amount of US$ 5.198 billion. Nearly US$ 1 billion more is certainly in the pipeline. Nobody should discount the generosity of the world. The International Donor’s Conference on Nov 19 was an outstanding success, the government deserves kudos for having professionally organized the campaign to obtain the necessary funds. Fully US$ 1.8 billion was pledged in outright grants by generous friends led by the US, Saudi Arabia, China etc, the rest was mostly concessional credit on easy terms. Some outstanding debts were also written off. Some muslim countries came to our help despite their own liquidity problems, Turkey stands out. Some extremely affluent muslim countries were a disappointment, par for the course. The richer they are, the more unfeeling they can get.

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Tapping Experience In Tackling Disaster

Faced with debacle in both areas of desert operations in 1971, flexibility in changing plans prevented the debacle from turning into a catastrophe. 33 Div was moved from its forward concentration area in Rahimyar Khan to take over the Chor-Umarkot sector of the Rajasthan Desert. To assist Maj Gen Naseer GOC 33 Div, Lt Gen KM Azhar, than Governor NWFP (and now Jamaat-i-Ulema Pakistan (JUP stalwart) was sent post-haste as Advisor. In 1965 (then) Brig KM Azhar, Commander 55 Bde, captured vast areas of the Southern Rajasthan desert, mostly through 18 Punjab (CO Lt Col (later Brig) Mumtaz, SJ) which included (then Maj) Brig Muhammad Taj SJ & Bar. By coincidence the leading battalion (44 Punjab, now 4 Sindh) of 60 Brigade being rushed to Chor-Umarkot area was commanded by (then) Lt Col Taj. Both Gens Azhar and Naseer were wounded on 12 Dec but the line was held at Chor, the Indians were pushed back. Flexibility, experience (and a little bit of courage) are always winning factors in battles. One cannot describe the effect of Taj’s personality on the frontline in galvanizing the soldiers. The smell of cordite, the booming of artillery guns and small arms fire enveloping the area seemed to bring out the best in him. No one can substitute experience and flexibility, not only on the battlefield but in any crisis. Flexibility in changing plans and the combined experience of Azhar and Taj made the difference.

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Removing Perceptions With Facts

In the company of Robert Bellhouse, Executive Director, Disaster Resource Network (DRN), an initiative of the World Economic Forum (WEF), I returned to the high mountains of my PMA Gentlemen Cadet (GC) days (1964-1965), and (later) Army Aviation (1968-1971) on a heli-tour of the affected areas. Thirty five years earlier as an Alouette-3 pilot of 4 Army Aviation Squadron in Dhamial (now Qasim Army Aviation Base) I would be on the roster (the happy fate of being one of three bachelors out of Squadron of 30 pilots) as “Pilot on Duty” to evacuate casualties from Azad Kashmir (AK). Approaching Mansehra in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) I became somewhat disoriented, the thickly wooded area beyond the Siran River from “Khaki” village to Oghi over the “black” mountains was no more. A proliferation of huts and houses dotting the landscape indicated significant increase in population, the tents alongside signifying enough damage to the structure in forcing the inhabitants to sleep outside.

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Compassion And Callousness

If anyone in Pakistan thinks that we have seen the worst of the great disaster that has engulfed northern Pakistan, they ain’t seen nothing yet! As the cold of the winter sets in, the race against time is to provide minimum shelter, warm clothing and adequate nourishment, particularly for children. Seventy-five heavy lift choppers are already operating, another 75 are on the way. Adding about 30-40 light-helicopters the total should top 175 in the air in the affected areas. Field hospitals are now more in number and better equipped to forward the injured to well appointed recovery and recuperation centers, not to exclude sophisticated trauma units. For the many amputees the cold is devastating, without proper medical care and supervision it could be fatal, more field hospitals are required.

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