- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 10, 2005

There have been more than 900 aftershocks to Pakistan’s devastating Oct. 8 earthquake, and the effects on the political landscape have also been seismic, with both positive and negative effects.

The earthquake in Pakistan killed more than 73,000 people and left about 3 million homeless. The disaster has given Pakistan’s military a raison d’etre, beyond the dispute with India over Kashmir. The earthquake damage to parts of Pakistan have been so devastating that the military will be forced to focus on reconstruction for some time. That redirection of the military’s energies and ambitions can only be beneficial. In fact, it already has been.

Pakistan recently announced that it will be delaying the purchase of 75 F-16s from Washington until at least April, a procurement estimated at between $3 billion and $4 billion. Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, Jehangir Karamat, noted: “We felt that at this stage we need that money for the earthquake victims.” Islamabad would be wise to put off the purchase indefinitely, given the country’s substantial reconstruction needs.

The considerable clout of the military within Pakistan had allowed for excessive military expenditures in a country that was in dire need of social spending. The standby justification for defense spending had been the threat India posed to Pakistan, and the need for Pakistan to continue to support (with military backup) the people living in Kashmir, a region both countries claim and control a portion of.

Less positively, jihadi groups fighting for the secession of Kashmir have stepped up their violence. The jihadists have, for the most part, not dared to interfere with the international aid effort, other than some initial incidents. The presence of aid workers, backed in large part by U.S. financial support, can only improve perceptions of America in a particularly volatile part of the world.

The aid drive in the regions affected by the earthquake has gone from dire to barely keeping pace. Donor nations finally began to contribute to relief after a recent donor’s conference in Islamabad. Contributions are still only trickling in after substantial pledges, but the funds have been able to sustain a fleet of helicopters and other aircraft missions. About 350,000 and 400,000 people in Kashmir can only be reached by helicopter.

In November, the United Nations received about $90 million. Aid efforts need between $50 million and $60 million a month, with helicopter flights taking up much of the cost. About 250,000 people have moved into tent camps that have been set up in towns and along the roads that are still passable, and winter is fast approaching.

“The international community must work together and work faster to fulfill their promise to prevent further deaths. Within weeks, the window of opportunity to bring relief to hard-to-reach areas will shut, the time to act is now,” Farhana Faruqi Stocker, Oxfam’s Pakistan director, said on Friday.

The aid effort remains vulnerable as aid workers race with winter. The Pakistani government should continue to redirect resources originally intended for military use toward reconstruction. The people of Pakistan will likely become emboldened to demand more constructive use of public funds in wake of the earthquake. The change in Pakistani temperament and the necessary refocusing of the military could have a lasting effect, even after the aftershocks wear off.

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