West criticised for quake aid shortfall

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Friday accused the West of double standards for failing to meet the country’s quake aid needs, adding that he will delay buying United States fighter jets to focus on relief efforts.

Musharraf, who met quake survivors in stricken Kashmir during the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, said the world has given less money than it did after the Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina in the US because there are no Westerners involved.

“With the tsunami, I think if one compared realistically the damage here is much more, the magnitude of the calamity is much more,” military ruler Musharraf told the BBC in an interview broadcast on Friday.

“But there it was spread to many countries, it affected many people from many countries of the world, especially the West, who were tourists.

“Therefore so many countries directly got affected because of the casualties of their own countrypeople, and therefore the response of the world, I am presuming.

“I would appeal to the world to see relatively that it is these people who need the aid much more, because they are poor and they are facing much harsher conditions,” Musharraf said.

Pakistan worse off

The quake on October 8 killed more than 73 000 people, while the December 2004 tsunami killed at least 215 000 but aid officials say the challenge in Pakistan is worse because most victims are in remote mountain areas.

About 1 200 died when Katrina struck in August.

The United Nations says the South Asian quake left about three million people homeless and one million short of food, with only weeks left to help them before the winter blocks off isolated mountain villages.

Musharraf told reporters in Muzaffarabad that Pakistan will postpone its long-awaited plans to buy about 25 F-16 jets from Washington, each of which costs about $25-million.

“We are going to postpone that ... we want to bring maximum relief and construction efforts,” he said, insisting nevertheless that the move will not hurt Pakistan’s security.

Donor countries have contributed less than half of a $550-million emergency UN appeal for aid, although they have pledged about $2-billion to rebuild devastated areas.

Musharraf also handed out gifts to children to mark the Eid holiday and stopped at a camp for homeless quake victims in Thoori on the River Jhelum, near Muzaffarabad.

Eid prayers

Survivors in the city crowded into patches of waste ground for Eid prayers led by Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the chief of Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan’s biggest religious party in Parliament.

He criticised some of the foreign nations who have joined the effort—the US and some Nato countries are running aid helicopter flights—saying they are “searching for al-Qaeda” instead of helping quake victims.

Pakistani cricket-hero-turned-politician Imran Khan also visited the quake zone, where he called on aid efforts to be taken out of the hands of Pakistan’s giant army and given to a parliamentary committee instead.

“The army is not accountable to anyone,” he said. Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, remains chief of the powerful army.

Tens of thousands of Muslims filled mosques and open ground in Indian Kashmir’s summer capital, Srinagar, for Eid prayers on Friday.

More than 1 300 people were killed by the quake in India.

New warning

The lack of international support led to a fresh warning by the UN’s World Food Programme that it will have to scale down vital helicopter flights, which are the only way of reaching the furthest-flung villages.

However, British charity Oxfam warned on Friday that squalid conditions and disease in camps for Pakistani quake victims could kill thousands more people, far exceeding the toll in remote villages.

“The focus on what’s happening in the most remote communities in earthquake-hit Kashmir is overshadowing the thousands more lives that are in danger in the increasing number of camps,” Oxfam said in a statement.

Hopes that a historic opening of the frontier in divided Kashmir could allow more aid to get through suffered a blow when the Indian army said only three of five crossing points will open on schedule on Monday.—Sapa-AFP


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