Saturday, October 08, 2005

THE DEATH TOLL from the 7.6-magnitude earthquake near the border of Pakistan and India is now over 2,000. The quake affected three countries: Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan. Obviously, the final number is going to be much higher, and may never even be known with total accuracy. Right now, officials are saying the number of fatalities in Pakistan alone could climb to 5,000. Among the many individual horror stories: 250 Pakistani schoolgirls were killed when the earthquake reduced their school to rubble.

The earthquake happened in the mountainous Kashmir section along the Pakistan-India border. At least 1,000 people were killed in Pakistan alone.

Condoleezza Rice says the U.S. will give whatever help is needed.

Information about the strength of the earthquake here. Maps of the region are here.

I would like to know how this natural catastrophe is going to affect and be affected by the man-made catastrophe of the "war against terror." As Time points out, the earthquake's epicenter is also the epicenter of U.S. and Pakistani military operations against the Taliban; and of the decades-long hostilities between India and Pakistan over Kashmir as well.

How would the catastrophe affect relations in the region--which, apart from the Pakistani and Indian armed forces, includes a sizeable U.S. military presence in Afghanistan? In a rare gesture of friendship between the two hostile nations, India said it would send rescue workers to help Pakistan, if requested. Meanwhile, the helicopters Musharraf dispatched to help victims of the earthquake were diverted from duty scouring the Afghan-Pakistan border for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters, one Islamabad official said. Reporters who wanted to travel to the ravaged regions were told they could be flown into the worst hit areas of Uri but were unlikely to be brought back immediately as the military helicopters were pressed into service mainly to bring the injured in for treatment. Could U.S. troops and aircraft in Afghanistan be deployed? That question is a sensitive one on the Pakistani side because of America's unpopularity in the Islamic country.

It's just going to make everything more difficult, and more tense. Maybe, since God and George W. Bush are in such close and direct communication, God can whisper in his ear, "George, get on the horn and tell the generals to suspend military operations. Those poor people in Afghanistan and Pakistan are suffering enough right now."

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