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Earthquake Diplomacy

In the Himalayas, there is an unprecedented chance for peace.

11:00 PM, Nov 29, 2005 • By MANSOOR IJAZ
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EARTHQUAKE DIPLOMACY is in full swing in South Asia after a donor summit recently concluded in Islamabad with international relief aid commitments totaling $5.9 billion to rehabilitate and reconstruct the devastated villages of northern Pakistan and Kashmir. During the proceedings, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, wasted little time getting down to the bottom line--that the earthquake, which compelled India and Pakistan to open up the line of control dividing disputed Kashmir and let relief supplies in, presented both sides with "an opportunity of a lifetime" to permanently settle their differences over the Himalayan enclave's future.

This important overture is fragile, though. Kashmir's jihadist terrorism enterprise lurks in the shadows, waiting to scuttle any bid for a permanent peace. Jihadi violence is no longer partial to either side in the half-century old conflict.

The earthquake gave jihadists a new lease on life, enabling them to fill the political, financial, and logistical void left by the international community's lethargic response. Today, the jihadists are still the most visible and viable aid givers in the affected areas. But allowing mercenaries to adopt the role of lifesavers--rather than shutting down their terrorist enterprises--is no recipe for long-term peace and stability.

Sealing their culture of violence and hatred under the rubble of earthquake-stricken homes should become the highest priority of the international donors who participated in Islamabad's fundraising summit. That means getting aid to the quake victims as quickly as generously as possible. And it means keeping the militants out of the game, altogether if necessary.

FOR DECADES, Islamabad has played a double game in the disputed Himalayan enclave, fueling and arming an insurgency against a repressive Indian army whose sheer numbers deployed inside Kashmir made it difficult to tell at times who were residents and who were soldiers. September 11th changed all that. Pakistan's military government has now spent five years dismembering and decapitating the most virulent jihadist groups operating in and around Kashmir's line of control. General Musharraf has paid a heavy price for his anti-terror campaign, surviving two serious assassination attempts on his life. But like radiation-hardened cancer, these groups periodically reconstitute and strengthen their capacity to wreak havoc in peace efforts.

AID COMMITMENTS in Islamabad came largely in the form of low interest loans that will burden Pakistan's future income with interest debts. The country's banker-prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, has spent three painstaking years negotiating Pakistan out of its near bankruptcy; it seems pitifully unfair that a natural disaster should put him back in the debt renegotiation game when his time would be better spent directing the reconstruction and rehabilitation effort.

What Pakistan needs are grants and trade opportunities, not interest-bearing loans.

It would be helpful, for instance, if the European Union, whose presidency is in British hands, reversed its March 2004 decision to reintroduce punitive tariffs against Pakistani bed linens. Cotton and cotton-based products are Pakistan's largest export component in its vital textile industry. Total exports in linen-related industrial output from Pakistan was approaching $2.0 billion before the punitive tariffs were reintroduced.

Over 200 Pakistani exporters were doing business with E.U. companies, earning Pakistan about $400 million per year during the period from 2002 to 2004. These earnings are now all but gone. Allowing that $400 million in trade to flow back to Pakistan would help the government build homes, hospitals, food warehouses, power generation facilities, and water distribution plants.

It would also be helpful if heavy machinery producers in the United States (Caterpillar and John Deere), Europe (Polish Dressta and New Holland) and Japan (Komatsu and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries) would send their bulldozers, road graders, jackhammers, dump trucks, backhoes, and cranes into the region as in-kind donations on loan for the time required to rebuild roads and clear debris, while accruing special tax benefits for making such donations. The equipment could later be returned and sold at a discount in the marketplace.

Finally, to insure the jihadist agenda remains contained and the political void created by the earthquake is filled with peaceniks rather than terrorists, Gen. Musharraf and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should call for a joint summit in the Himalayas at one of the line of control's border crossing points before winter snows set in. They should get down to the business of binding each other's military and political frameworks into a permanent solution that gives Kashmir's embattled people a right to determine their own fate.