- The Washington Times - Monday, October 17, 2005

As the dust settles on the powerful Oct. 8 earthquake that has devastated parts of Pakistan and India, the scale of the human and physical destruction and the government’s disaster response have become more clear. So is the potential toll on America’s vital interests in the region.

In Pakistan, at least 38,000 have been killed and 2 million left homeless. In India, at least 1,300 have been killed at 150,000 left homeless. Initially, the international and domestic responses to the disaster appeared prompt. Due to rain and snowfall, a lack of coordination, a shortage of helicopters and other supplies, though, more than a week after the earthquake only about 13,000 of the estimated 65,000 injured people in Pakistan have been evacuated to Islamabad for emergency treatment. The doctors who have attended to those who were airlifted say they have had to amputate countless limbs that could have been saved with a speedier response. The lives of millions, particularly those of children, now hang in the balance, threatened by hypothermia and gangrene.

With many roads made impassable and the homes of so many destroyed, Pakistanis and Indians have been left to suffer the Himalayan snowfall without tents or other improvised shelter. Pakistan’s Maj. Gen. Farooq Ahmed Khan, the country’s relief commissioner, said 29,000 tents and 118,000 blankets had been distributed, while an additional 100,000 tents are needed.

The United States and the rest of the Western world has a pressing interest in helping nuclear-armed Pakistan and India. In Pakistan, the country’s president, Pervez Musharraf, has been a U.S. counter-terror ally. The U.S. response in Pakistan will uplift the U.S. image in Pakistan and buttress Mr. Musharraf. India, meanwhile, has been a successful multi-ethnic and -religious democracy with growing ties to the West.

The United States has pledged up to $50 million in humanitarian assistance to Pakistan and $100,000 to India. India has not appealed for international aid. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice suggested additional aid is coming. Pakistan remains in dire need of additional helicopters. At present, there are about 55 helicopters operating out of Islamabad. The United States has sent 14 helicopters and will be sending another 30.

The earthquake has hit, interestingly enough, in two of the most sensitive areas of South Asia — the disputed area of Kashmir and the North-West Frontier Province in Pakistan, on the border with Afghanistan. Both areas are prone to Islamic radicalization, and Islamic parties and militant groups have already mobilized to help victims of the earthquake.

The United States and other Western countries have an overriding interest in seeing the people of Pakistan attended to quickly by their country and relief agencies. Miss Rice and her counterparts in other countries should pledge aid proportional to the scale of the catastrophe and Western interests in South Asia.

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