Kashmir Shaken, Government Unstirred

For half a century two of the poorest countries in the world have fought four wars, spent billions of dollars on sophisticated arms and even engaged in a potentially catastrophic nuclear weapons race. All this, over the tormented land of Kashmir .

And yet on October 8, when a terrible 7.6 magnitude earthquake killed over 79,000 (and still counting) Kashmiris on both sides of the disputed border neither the Indian nor Pakistani governments could muster the basic equipment, people or political will to save lives and treat the wounded.

All of a sudden it has become very clear that Kashmir , hitherto painted by both countries as an issue of national honour and integrity, is not about Kashmiris at all. It is a property dispute between the elites who run Delhi and Islamabad and the tenants who live on the real estate be damned. If they all die of conflict, natural disasters and neglect so be it!

Even as I write right now there are over 3 million homeless people stranded out there in the cold, mourning their lost ones, hungry and without shelter or help. In a couple of weeks, many parts of this mountainous territory, already cut off by landslides triggered by the quake will become unapproachable due to severe winter with horrendous consequences for the people.

Aid workers who have reached some of the remote villages and towns in Kashmir report a complete absence of any aid or relief to affected people some of whom are yet to bury their dead a full two weeks after the disaster.

Aid workers fear casualties will rise because communities without adequate food, shelter or health care will soon face the harsh Himalayan winter. Snow already has begun to fall in high mountains, and some villages already have freezing temperatures at night.

The U.N. Children's Fund said as many as 120,000 children remained without access to aid and warned that 10,000 could die from hypothermia, hunger and disease in coming weeks if no relief reached them

So far the US government, fighting its illegal, occupational war against the Taliban in Afghanistan , has dispatched a mere 8 helicopters to help with the rescue and relief efforts. NATO too has troops in Afghanistan and if it chooses to can send them over to help with what is already being described as the world's toughest post-disaster relief challenge.

But before one seeks help from either the US or NATO nobody seems to be asking the question about what ever happened to all those fantastic flying objects that India and Pakistan have been buying all these years?

Just in March this year the United States finally cleared for sale two dozen F-16 fighter jet planes that Pakistan had paid for over US$600 million long ago but was denied delivery due to its pursuit of nuclear arms. And when the Indians got upset over it the world's lonely superpower coolly made an offer to sell the same to them also-at a very cheap US$50 million a plane.

And yet when the prestigious Margalla Towers in central Islamabad collapsed in the recent quake they could not find even an earthmover to clear the rubble for the first three hours! One can imagine what the relief operations must be like in the tough, inaccessible and mountainous terrain of Kashmir on both sides of the border.

Both India and Pakistan are among the biggest spenders on arms in the world and the excuse both have essentially for such indulgence is the ' Kashmir dispute'. India has the third largest defense budget on the planet, calculated in terms of the purchasing power of its currency and currently spends more than US$100 billion on defense every year.

Much of the recent increase in India 's military spending is attributable to highly expensive weapons systems, including an aircraft carrier, submarines, multiple rocket launchers, airplane-based radar systems, mid-air refuellers, light helicopters, and artillery guns.

Pakistan 's defense spending, though smaller in total terms, is bigger per capita and as a share of its economy, making it the fifteenth-biggest defense spender in the world.

Needless to say, both countries also rank extremely low globally in terms of how much they spend on the welfare of their populations. The United Nations Development Program's 2004 Human Development Report places India at number 127 out of a total of 177 nations, while Pakistan is at an even more dismal 142.

The unwillingness of both the Indian and Pakistani governments to use all their resources to save the tragedy struck people of Kashmir in their greatest hour of need clearly exposes the fact that the 'nation' for them does not mean living people but only dead money and property. Both governments have made much of their 'noble intentions' in opening up the Line of Control to Kashmiris crossing borders to help their brethren but this is a pitifully inadequate gimmick in the face of the enormous effort that is required to save the Kashmiri people.

It is time for the citizens of both countries to wake up to the horrible designs of their rulers and give them a fitting response that will change the face of the subcontinent forever.

– Sundaram