A postscript to the forthcoming book on Kashmir by Lal Khan
As this book was about to go to print, a terrible earthquake rocked Kashmir. It devastated the main towns of Muzzafarabad, Bagh and Rawalakot. Thousands have perished mainly in Pakistani occupied Kashmir. Hundred of thousands have been injured, scores handicapped for life. According to the ILO out of the 2.4 million people living in the area in the immediate vicinity of the earthquake, more than 2 million were living below the poverty line of two dollars a day. This calamity has exposed the poor standards of life in Kashmir. The fragile and unsafe dwellings, the soil erosion due to deforestation and rotting infrastructure contributed to the heavy death toll. Such was the poor state of the roads and infrastructure that if one road was blocked due to a landslide or cracked due to the jolts, land access to the whole of Muzzafarabad and other towns was severed. This is the main reason for the delay in relief operations and the transportation of the injured to hospitals and care centres.
The rulers’ priority in massive expenditure on armaments had made the social and physical infrastructure suffer. More than 1000 affected villages can be reached only on foot. More than fifty percent of deaths have been those of children. The United Nations believes that rescue teams have been unable to reach some 500,000 people. The UN’s children’s agency says that this includes as many as 120,000 children, of whom 10,000 will die of hunger, hypothermia, and disease in the next few weeks if nothing is done. Only half of the victims have received emergency rations. Over one hundred hospitals and dispensaries have been decimated. Schools, colleges, and public institutions have been destroyed. According to conservative estimates 500,000 houses have been destroyed. The earthquake, which measured 7.6 on the Richter scale, destroyed around half of the 1.3 million hectares of cultivated land in Azad Kashmir. Officials estimate that almost 80 per cent of all harvestable crops in the region were destroyed and the disaster claimed the lives of around 100,000 cattle. The transportation and treatment of the 75, 000 people injured in the earthquake and the housing of as many orphans seems to be a task far beyond the capability of the Pakistani state.
To prevent the spread of epidemics, a massive operation is being launched which is intended to provide the remaining three million people affected with food, medicines, cooking utensils, clothing and housing. Rebuilding and rehabilitating the region after the disaster, according to the WHO estimates, could exceed $10 billion.
It is interesting to note that the estimate of the Musharraf government for the total rehabilitation effort is only $5 billion. The government plan overlooks the costs of repairing and rebuilding roads, bridges, schools, colleges, hospitals, government offices, power houses, telecommunication lines and rescue centres. Their top priority is to build military cantonments.
The ILO estimates that 1.1 million people have been rendered jobless by this tragedy. Reviving economic activity to accommodate them would require a colossal effort and a massive amount of investment that the regime could not even think of acquiring and spending. Rising oil prices and interest rates will further compound these problems. As far as foreign aid is concerned, there has been an outpouring of grief and promises, but much too little actual aid is coming from the developed states. Even if lofty promises are made, many rescue agencies the world over will admit the fact that such promises often do not materialise. The unfulfilled promises to the victims of last year’s tsunami are proof of this.
The gruesome nature of the capitalist system is being exposed by the heinous acts of the capitalists, who like vultures are poaching and scavenging on the miseries of the victims of this tragedy. The private sector is covertly optimistic, believing fully that the rehabilitation will boost economic growth as more products are consumed in the effort. This belief has helped the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE-100 index) to rise by over 330 points since October 8.
Other businesses, especially in the transport, textile (who produce shrouds and cloth for coffins), and medical industries have displayed great vigour in cashing in on this tragedy. The price of shrouds has shot up from Rs 130 to Rs 800 since the news of the huge death toll. Besides this appalling state of affairs there were instances of relief goods finding their way to private warehouses instead of the areas hit by the earthquake.
There are harrowing reports of very young girls and boys being abducted from areas by mafia gangs and being sold as house servants and for prostitution. The bus fare from Rawlakot to Rawalpindi has risen from Rs 120 to Rs 600. The price of rent in Rawalpindi (the closest major city to Kashmir) has risen more than three fold. The skyrocketing of prices of essential items is a trend that has engulfed the whole of society and has intensified the misery of the already impoverished masses of Pakistan.
Taj Haider explains the causes behind these price hikes in his article in the Dawn on October 24, 2005.
This is the general market trend guided by the sacred law of the supply and demand and protected by the believers in market economy. There are big profits to be made in a crisis situation and the hoarders and profiteers have rushed right ahead. Why should one be ashamed of making huge profits? High profits after all are the pre-requisites of a robust economy. Ask any believer of the holy market economy.
The great famine of Bengal was not the result of food shortages. It was caused by the large scale hoarding and profiteering. The government, reluctant to violate the economic principles it has been advocating for so long, is watching the scam silently.
The stock market is already rising. High demand for cement, steel, construction material, fuel, and other necessary items in disaster areas has to result in substantial increase in profits and therefore, further rise in the stock prices.
There is massive shock and psychological trauma in Kashmir. Given the devastation, there will be a set back for the movement for a certain period. But there is bound to be a resurgence. This tragedy has not only exposed the state’s pathetic organisation of the relief operations but has also exposed the real class nature of the state and society. In the same article Taj Haider further elaborates the class character of the earthquake devastation.
The very fact that the earthquake did not damage rich localities or the well constructed houses highlights the truth that the real reason behind the death and destruction is the prevailing poverty and backwardness of our working classes and not the earthquake by itself. It is yet another tragic reminder that our current priorities are all wrong.
The state simply dose not have a concept of security of the people. Neither does it feel the need for having one, How conveniently do our rulers separate the country’s interest from the interests of the people as if the country and the people were two distinct entities detached from one another.
Relief work has badly suffered and thousands of people have lost their lives on account of this erroneous thinking. Instead of directing relief operations to the poorest and the worst effected areas where these were most urgently needed, they gave priority to the seats of administration. Following the trickle down effect doctrine, only the spillover of relief from these centers is going down to lower tiers. This trickle down of relief is yet to reach many remote areas.
The events of this tragedy and the callous attitude of the ruling class towards the oppressed in the aftermath will raise the class-consciousness of the masses. The new generation in Kashmir has exhibited enormous resilience in past catastrophes. They will do so again.
It has become more and more clear that under capitalism natural disasters hit the poor and deprived sections of society hardest. Had there been better infrastructure and housing similar to that found in Japan and California, thousands of innocent lives could have been saved. Capitalism cannot even provide housing of that quality to the people of the subcontinent. The devastation brought about by this calamity can never be reversed under this system. This means even more misery, poverty and disease for Kashmiri masses.
As the new wave of struggle is unleashed it will develop along class lines and in a revolutionary spirit. The Marxists in Kashmir are not just involved in the relief and rescue operations but are also educating the youth on the real lessons of this tragedy. Their fundamental task is to change this grief into the strength, vitality, and courage to fight this barbaric system. In the coming weeks and months the masses will become more aware of the real issues affecting their lives and the need for their salvation through a socialist revolution.
Socialism does not simply mean emancipation from the present set up. It also means a system so rich in the resources that are needed to develop the science and technology capable of preventing such natural disasters. The present capitalist system, on a world scale, is so debilitated due to its lust for profits that it cannot even explore and exploit the massive resources available in many parts of the world. Even after the oil shock of 1974 they were unable to develop an alternative source of energy to hydrocarbons. The rising frequency and intensity of these natural disasters further signifies the need for socialism, where the surplus produced by the workers of the world can be used to secure a better existence for mankind. Under capitalism this surplus is wasted on both individual and corporate profits. The pain and agony that has struck Kashmir as a result of this disaster has caused much sorrow and bewilderment. However we must learn the lessons of history. In the past such conditions have changed abruptly into anger and resentment against the rulers of this exploitative and barbaric system.
Even in this situation of distress and mayhem there is a burning hatred of the regime. There have been several instances of crowds raising slogans against the rulers and even reports of skirmishes with state forces. The masses of the subcontinent have shown tremendous solidarity with their Kashmiri brothers and sisters, because they also share the same miseries. A revolutionary upsurge in Kashmir will ignite the mass movement across the whole of the subcontinent. The only thing the ruling class has given to Kashmir over the last 58 years his misery, poverty, and destitution. Now they cannot even rebuild the region to the level that existed before the calamity. The masses will have to rise. And rise they will. Once they do, they will go to the very end – for a socialist revolution to overthrow this rotten system.