- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 10, 2005

The people of Kashmir are no strangers to hardship, but last month’s earthquake brought more death in a few minutes than all the bullets and bombs of previous decades.

Earlier this year, the world responded to the Asian tsunami with a tremendous outpouring of aid. Today, before winter raises the death toll in Kashmir far higher, we must take similar action in the mountains of Pakistan.

The quake has already taken 80,000 lives. Another 3 million are homeless, many without food, medicine or even a blanket. With heavy snows only a few weeks away, tens of thousands more may soon die.

American military personnel have performed heroically in the rescue operation, and I strongly support President Bush’s decision to send them on this mission of mercy. But we need to do far more — and fast. Millions of earthquake victims remain without adequate food and shelter. If the harsh Pakistani winter arrives before aid does, thousand of innocent people will die.

In the aftermath of the tsunami, the world community deployed about 1,000 helicopters; in Kashmir — where two-thirds of affected villages are unreachable by road and helicopters are the single most urgent need — aid workers have barely one-tenth that number. The U.S. promised 33 choppers, but surely we could redirect more of our Chinooks from Afghanistan for a few crucial weeks.

I also support the president’s pledge of financial assistance — but the amount is not nearly enough. If there’s one thing we should have learned from Katrina and the tsunami, it’s that only an effective, rapid, well-funded response can prevent a terrible tragedy from spiraling into an uncontrolled disaster.

The United Nations has sought $550 million to meet immediate needs, and the longer-term costs will run to the billions of dollars. The world community has pledged only a fraction of the request — and the United States has committed only $14.3 million to the U.N. appeal. The president promised $100 million toward the larger relief and recovery effort, which puts us behind Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the EU, and on par with Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, plus $56 million to compensate the Pentagon for military expenses. This is far too little.

With so many pressing needs here in the United States, some may ask why send any aid overseas? This is a false choice. We can — and must — do both.

When we were struck by Katrina, 90 nations, including Pakistan, offered us assistance. It was right, and also smart: Disaster relief is one of the most effective — and cost-effective — tools in any nation’s diplomatic or political arsenal.

After the earthquake, several dozen countries have sent relief aid to Pakistan, including Russia, China, France, Israel and even Pakistan’s longtime rival, India. But there remains a huge chasm of need — and that void is being filled by groups hostile to American values and interests.

Jamaat ul-Dawa, an affiliate of the terrorist group Lashkar-e Taiba, opened a major field hospital — weeks before an American MASH unit was up and running. Other extremist groups, including at least one whose U.S. assets have been frozen on suspicion of channeling funds to al Qaeda, have organized massive relief convoys and camps sheltering survivors. These radicals have learned a lesson already known to every U.S. military officer: You can’t win a war with bombs alone; you have to win hearts and minds.

The tsunami provides a shining example of what we can accomplish when we do things right. Once our pledge neared the mark of $1 billion and the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier group arrived in Indonesia, our sailors and Marines accomplished a stunning feat of public diplomacy. A survey shortly after the tsunami showed 65 percent of Indonesians had a more favorable view of the U.S., and popular support for Osama bin Laden was cut by more than half.

Today, we have a rare opportunity to replicate our success. We can prove America is not crusading against Islam. We can demonstrate our friendship to the Pakistani people and to Muslims throughout the globe.

But we can’t accomplish this on the cheap. We must send more helicopters and relief supplies — immediately. We must match our aid to our superpower status. We give Pakistan more than $300 million in military funding each year. Our earthquake aid should be far more than half as much.

We simply can’t afford to let our response be too little, too late. If we don’t fill the void, the extremists will.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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