Relief Diplomacy: Politics and Propaganda in Kashmir

Pervez Hoodboy has a nice report and editorial about the Pakistan earthquake on the website (It might be somewhere else too, but I haven't been able to find it). Hoodboy is a university professor at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, and he's been up to the affected regions with his students.

As sometimes happens with massive catastrophes like this one, there seems to be a spurt in national unity in the relief effort. Also, the U.S. Chinooks delivering relief have made an impact, even if only a dozen or so are currently being used. As Hoodboy notes:

There is good news. The Mansehra to Balakot road stretch, finally forced open by huge army bulldozers and earth moving machinery, is now open to relief trucks and goods donated across the country are piled to the truck roofs. If there ever was a time when the people of Pakistan moved together, this is it. Even the armed bandits who waylay relief supplies – to guard against whom soldiers with automatic weapons stand at alert every few hundred yards – cannot destroy the euphoria of having this solitary moment of unspoiled national unity.

The army’s presence is important and positive, but no senior officers appeared to be present. I heard criticism that soldiers did little to stop looting. The Edhi Trust was visible and effective.

Aid from across the world is making its way, and the United States is here too. Double bladed Chinook helicopters, diverted from fighting Al-Qaida in Afghanistan, weave their way through the mountains. They fly over the heartland of jihad and the militant training camps in Mansehra to drop food and tents a few miles beyond. Temporarily birds of peace instead of war, they do immensely more to soothe the highly Islamic, highly conservative, bearded mountain people than the reams of silly propaganda on glossy paper put out by the US information services in Pakistan.

Note the reference to the Edhi Trust. Sepoy has also been talking about this agency, and has even started his own aid drive on his blog.

Still, there is some questionable politicking occurring on the other propaganda front, which is India's attempt to build goodwill in Pakistan Controlled Kashmir/Azad Kashmir. India has done a number of things to try and help, including sending two consignments of relief goods to Lahore. They have also been allowing Pakistani helicopters to fly in the no-fly zone at the Line of Control. And further, private relief agencies in India have been authorized to send relief (this might not sound like much, but I believe it's unprecedented).

There was even some talk of Indian troops crossing the Line of Control to deliver aid, though I read elsewhere that Pakistan is denying it occurred. Moreover, according to Hoodboy (in the article linked to above), Indian relief workers who want to go to Pakistan to help will not be granted visas, whereas other foreign volunteers who want to come in will not need visas for the next few weeks. And the BBC has more reports of relief missteps and shenanigans here.

Still, it's clear that the Indian government, while sincerely trying to help, is also hoping to generate strategic goodwill amongst Kashmiris at a time when many of them are likely to be quite frustrated with the failings of their own government's mobilization. Will it have an impact on the broader political situation in Kashmir? We'll probably have to wait and see.