Interview: RFE/RL Speaks With Pakistan's Kashmir Affairs Minister
On 12 October 2005, Radio Free Afghanistan (RFA) spoke with Pakistan's Kashmir Affairs Minister Makhdoom Syed Fasial Saleh Hayat, who had just returned from a tour of the area affected by the 8 October earthquake.
RFA: According to news reports, Kashmir has been hit severely by the earthquake. Thousands of people lost their lives, and thousands of them lost their homes and properties. How do you assess assistance efforts -- the international community efforts and sending humanitarian aid to the people of Kashmir?
Hayat: Several hundreds of soldiers in Azad Kashmir [the part of Kashmir that is controlled by Pakistan] have been killed and injured by the earthquake. Even if we wish to follow their [army officials] lead, it needs to go through these officials. Unfortunately, most of these officials themselves were victims of this earthquake.
What we have done now is that during the past 48 hours, the two main roads that have been links between Pakistan and Kashmir have been opened. And this is a relief path -- heavy traffic of relief will flow to Kashmir and to Muzafarabat and Bagh to deliver goods.
During the last 72 hours, we have finally been able to get together the communications network. Even the police mobile-control system was severely damaged, but that is also back on track. The relief efforts have begun. In fact, there has been a massive relief effort since yesterday because of the inaccessibility of the area. It was possible only by helicopter and air transportation was essential to reach to all these places. Obviously, it had its limitations, but despite that we tried to reach the most remote areas where those affected were left homeless or were trapped.
We have been able to concentrate on immediate places like the cities of Muzafarabat and Bagh. But we made tremendous efforts in order to approach, to get to, those people living in those remote, outlaying areas -- the Nilom Valley and Djelum Valley. These are the most important areas, where these people right now await relief efforts. We went there to these regions. I led the relief committee for two days in the Kashmir areas. The army is doing the bulk of the relief work. They are spread all over, and they are very successful and are reaching most of these people.
Today the prime minister of Pakistan will visit Muzafarabat and Bagh, which are the hardest hit, where the spread of relief efforts has been directed. We are very much grateful to the international community for providing us most needed air support with helicopters. And today, our fleet is around 50 helicopters, which are going around the clock to these priority places of Muzafarabat, Bagh, and Rawallahkot, as well as during the first days being successful in getting to the remote areas. The relief efforts were stopped yesterday for some time because of very bad and stormy weather, because helicopters cannot fly in such weather. However, the relief efforts are continuing. We are very grateful to the international community, which has wholeheartedly supported Pakistan.
We have French doctors; we have Japanese doctors -- Russian, British, American, Turkish, Spanish, Italian, from the Islamic world, the Far East, Canada, Malaysia -- almost every country has come forward both in terms of financial systems and goods, relief goods. We are trying to pull out the survivors from the debris. There is a colossal work in respect to getting free those victims who are buried under collapsed buildings. They are in the thousands. With every person, we feel that number of the dead is increasing.
This is a human tragedy of gigantic proportions, unparalleled in the modern history. The international community -- we appeal to them to come forward, as they have been doing. They should be forthcoming and help these people, these unfortunate victims of the earthquake. Because Pakistan is doing its very best, but we are certainly handicapped as far as resources are concerned, so the relief and subsequently the reconstruction efforts will certainly require tremendous commitment, both in term of financial and technical back up from the international community to rebuild the lives of the thousands of people who have been affected by this earthquake.
In Kashmiri areas, approximately 1.5 million to 2 million people have been directly affected. In the Northern province, again, close to 1 million people have been directly affected.
RFA: Sir, how many people were killed in the area, in the area of the big three cities you mentioned -- Bagh, Muzafarabat, and Rawallahkot -- and how many people have been injured. Also, reports from Islamabad say that the hospitals are full of victims. So, considering the fact that Kashmir is a mountainous region, where do you transfer all the injured people? To which hospital will you send the injured for the treatment?
Hayat: As I said, the worst was in Bagh, Muzafarabat, and Rawallahkot. As far as the number of the dead in Kashmir, as of now, it is approximately 30,000 dead, the injured are around 50,000. We have been removing and evacuating the injured from Kashmir and from Bagh and Rawullahkot to Islamabad and Rawalpindi, but these hospitals are also full. So what we are doing now is we are using those field hospitals that foreign governments are providing. But at the same time, we need to have more field units set up in the remote areas where the toll of victims could be much higher. There are hardly any towns near Muzafarabat, where there are hospitals. We have a hospital in Mari, but they are obviously handicapped there in that the scale of the tragedy is such that these hospitals are not prepared to deal with it. The best option now is that we have hospitals erected -- field hospitals. The injured are very serious, and they need to be flown to Islamabad or Rawalpindi now.
What we need immediately from the international community are tents for up to 2 million people, blankets, medicines, and food supplies. These are the emergency goods that are immediately needed in Pakistan. And we will go and appeal to the international community, companies, and individuals for help.
Copyright (c) 2005. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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