Pakistan Quake Leads to Questions for Musharraf

The slow response of the Pakistan government to a catastrophic earthquake has raised questions about the effectiveness of the country's military government. President Pervez Musharraf justified his coup by saying only the military could solve Pakistan's problems. But his regime's claim to power is looking precarious.

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In Pakistan, officials say that as many as four children, including one infant, were discovered alive in rubble a week after an earthquake left at least 38,000 people dead. But they officials also warned that the toll could go higher once relief teams reach many remote areas they've been unable to get to so far. The United Nations estimates that four million people have been affected by the quake. Many nations have sent large amounts of aid, as have the Pakistani people. But as NPR's Michael Sullivan reports, many Pakistanis are questioning the government's response to the disaster, or lack thereof.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN reporting:

It's getting a lot busier at Islamabad's international airport.

(Soundbite of people's voices)

SULLIVAN: More planes coming in loaded with relief supplies, more helicopters to ferry those supplies to the places that need them most. But a full week after the earthquake, many survivors have seen little or any of this aid. And more questions are being asked of, and more fingers pointed at, the government of President Pervaiz Musharraf. Samina Ahmed is South Asian project director for the International Crisis Group, speaking from Karachi.

Ms. SAMINA AHMED (Project Director, International Crisis Group): It's a catastrophe of such immense dimensions that it would have been a challenge for any government. But then there were areas that were easier to reach. There were areas that volunteers reached, right? There are areas where there's still NGOs on the ground and no government presence. This is where the problem lies.

SULLIVAN: Hers is a more charitable view than many others.

Mr. AYAZ AMIR (Dawn Columnist, Former Captain in Pakistani Army): There has been a complete failure, a complete collapse of government. And even now this is so many days after the earthquake, and still the government hasn't got its act together.

SULLIVAN: Ayaz Amir is a columnist for the newspaper Dawn and a former captain in Pakistan's army, an army that backed General Musharraf when he seized power in a bloodless coup six years ago, promising to make things right.

Mr. AMIR: The whole justification for military rule has been over the last six years that the civilian sector is up to no good and the army is the greatest institution for fixing up every problem under the sun. Now they get their first big crisis and they're just completely at sea.

(Soundbite of machinery)

SULLIVAN: In the capital, construction crews clear debris from the site of the Margalla Towers apartment building, the only building in the capital brought down by the quake. For many analysts, the military's response to the building's collapse is a metaphor for the government's entire relief effort. Rasul Bakhsh Rais teaches political science at Lahore's University of Management Sciences.

Mr. RASUL BAKHSH RAIS (Lahore's University of Management Sciences): They've--Musharraf and his allies claimed that they are a very different kind of government. Why it took so many hours even to reach the Margalla Towers? It was basically the local citizens going with hammers and hands and digging out people injured and alive, and they did it in the first few hours. It was not done by the government. It was not done by the army. It had been done been done by the people on their own.

SULLIVAN: Ordinary citizens and non-governmental organizations were also quick to respond in the worst-hit areas of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, especially Islamic parties with strong social service networks already in place. Again, Ayaz Amir.

Mr. AMIR: Specifically, the Jemaah Islamiyah and its al-Hipmet Group(ph). The al-Hipmet Group was amongst the first to reach the earthquake-hit areas. And in my small hometown of Chekwal(ph), for example, it was the al-Hipmet was set up the first camps. And although I have never donated to the Jemaah Islamiyah, but because it was the only thing going--so I joined their efforts and went around the town collecting donations.

SULLIVAN: Amir does not expect the religious parties to gain or seek political advantage as a result of their efforts, nor does he believe the government to be in any real danger. But he and many others say President Musharraf may eventually pay a political price for his government's slow response. The International Crisis Group's Samina Ahmed.

Ms. AHMED: You're not going to have hundreds and thousands of people coming out into the streets and demonstrating against the government. That's not the point. The point here is that the government is facing a crisis of legitimacy, and how are they going to deal with it? That will determine General Musharraf's future as he claims once again in 2007 that he has the right to lead the country after his term, or as president, expires.

SULLIVAN: President Musharraf went on national television Wednesday night to apologize for the slow response, but insisted it was due to lack of resources, not lack of effort. He promised things would get better quickly. Many who are preparing to spend their ninth straight night outdoors in the cold can only hope he delivers. Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Islamabad.

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