- The Washington Times - Friday, November 4, 2005

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan — President Pervez Musharraf suspended a major purchase of U.S. fighter planes, saying yesterday during a tour of this devastated city that funds are needed first and foremost for earthquake recovery.

The president — who has been criticized for refusing to cut the nation’s enormous military budget in light of the disaster — called on the world to send more money, saying the response to the killer quake has fallen far short of that for last year’s tsunami or for Hurricane Katrina.

Gen. Musharraf said he was delaying the purchase of 77 F-16 fighters because of the need for rebuilding large swaths of northern Pakistan flattened by the Oct. 8 temblor, which killed an estimated 80,000 people.

Analysts estimate the planes’ cost at between $5 billion and $10 billion, a steep tab for a nation struggling to provide basic education and health care to its people under the best of circumstances.

“I am going to postpone that. … We want to bring maximum relief and reconstruction efforts,” Gen. Musharraf said of the F-16 purchase. He did not say when the sale would go through.

Washington blocked the sale in the 1990s as punishment for Pakistan’s nuclear program, but reversed its position after intense lobbying by Gen. Musharraf and approved the sale in March.

Gen. Musharraf also urged the world to be as generous with long-term help for quake victims as it was with Asia’s tsunami in December and Hurricane Katrina in August.

He suggested later in a British Broadcasting Corp. interview that the world had forgotten quake victims largely because there were no Westerners among them.

The South Asia quake left more than 3 million homeless, most in the Kashmir region claimed by both Pakistan and India, though the Pakistan side was harder hit. The Dec. 26 tsunami left fewer homeless — a half-million — but had a larger death toll — nearly 179,000 killed — and 50,000 others missing.

Donors pledged $13.5 billion in aid after the tsunami. For quake victims, the United Nations says it needs $550 million in emergency aid, but donors have pledged only $131 million.

Pakistani Finance Ministry official Ashfaq Hassan Khan said the world has pledged $1.93 billion in aid over the long term, but the country has said it needs $5 billion.

Part of the concern in Pakistan is the onset of winter in the Himalayas. Hundreds of thousands there are without shelter and lacking food, with temperatures already dipping below freezing.

In New York, former President Bill Clinton urged Pakistan and India to set aside their rivalry, saying this would help prompt a world weary of natural disasters to donate more money.

The quake already has helped bring the nuclear-armed rivals closer, sparking an accord last weekend to partially open their heavily militarized frontier in Kashmir, called the Line of Control, to share relief efforts.

For most of Pakistan, yesterday was the start of the Eid al-Fitr celebration marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, but Gen. Musharraf asked Pakistanis to tone down their festivities out of respect for quake victims.

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