India and Pakistan are reported to have locked
horns, true to form, over the terms under which the Indian
aircraft offered for rescue and relief operations should operate
in the quake hit areas. India wants its crews to fly them and
Pakistan has, while accepting its neighbour's offer of the
aircraft, raised objections to the Indian crews flying them. It
wants the Pakistani pilots to do the job. This dispute is likely
to go on until another quake rocks Kashmir.
With the Indian offer of helicopters, according
to BBC, the size of the chopper fleet engaged in relief and
evacuation operations could be doubled, though it will still be
insufficient. About 20 per cent of the quake-stricken areas have
not yet been reached even after ten days in spite of relentless
efforts by the Pakistani pilots, who are risking their life and
limb to help the victims. They have come to be appropriately
dubbed 'helicopter heroes' because of their daring flights in
the face of harsh weather conditions. And the victims are said
to be calling helicopters 'angels.'
The two nuclear rivals, of course, have their
security concerns in respect of reconnaissance etc. and mutual
suspicions, which have been the bane of their relations. But
given the magnitude of the disaster, which is considered the
worst ever quake to have hit the region – 54,000 dead and over
one hundred thousand injured and two million homeless – it is
unfortunate that the two countries cannot reach a consensus for
the sake of the victims and get the flying machines going.
Thousands of people who need emergency surgical care have been
left to their fate due to lack of helicopters and according to
news agencies most of them have wounds pouring pus and their
limbs are becoming gangrenous. No water, no food, no shelter and
they are living in hell on earth.
What is urgently called for is a concerted
effort by the world to race against time, which is fast running
out with the killer Kashmir winter waiting in the wings like a
vulture drawn to human misery. A Senior UN official has said the
emergency is 'so vast'`85 that it is outside the scope of any
government to handle.' All the warm tents in the world put
together won't be sufficient to house the displaced, he has
warned. Should there be another disaster elsewhere, he says,
there won't be any tents left. Ironically, Pakistan is one of
the biggest suppliers of tents to the world.
Trapped in treacherous mountainous terrains on
empty stomachs with infected wounds, the victims are dying by
their hundreds each day, while Pakistan and India are
quarrelling over the question of pilots.
In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, when
attempts were being made to paper over the geopolitical fault
lines, some expressed optimism that the quake would help the two
countries to bury the hatchet. They simply didn't know India and
Pakistan and their enmity. Today, they stand disillusioned. No
amount of natural disasters is going to help resolve man made
crises, be it in Kashmir or in any other part on this planet.
The tsunami disaster in Sri Lanka, as we pointed out the other
day, is a case in point. It couldn't bring at least the two main
southern political parties together, let alone the government
and the LTTE. So, how can an earthquake reconcile two countries?
It is a crime to keep the additional choppers
waiting any longer, while the victims are crying out for help.
Every sortie foregone means dozens of lives lost. Every second
counts as winter closes in on the quake hit areas. If India
doesn't allow Pakistani pilots to fly its machines and Pakistan
doesn't allow Indians to do that themselves, then the only way
out is for both countries to agree to bring in pilots from
neutral countries acceptable to both of them to do the job.
There must be hundreds of pilots in those countries willing to
rush in to assist in rescue operations. They may be a call away.