Quake Relief Efforts Improve U.S. Image in Pakistan
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld today visited a US military hospital in Pakistan that's treating victims of last October's devastating earthquake. The earthquake killed about 70,000 people in Pakistan and India. Rumsfeld's visit came amid signs that the US relief efforts there have improved the image of the United States in Pakistan. NPR's John Hendren is traveling with the secretary, and he sent us this report from the town of Muzaffarabad near the quake's epicenter.
JOHN HENDREN reporting:
Rumsfeld's Black Hawk helicopter passed over collapsed homes and foothills with caved-in peaks before touching down at the MASH 212 hospital here. Inside is a maze of tents, where the US military treats just about any local Pakistani who turns up, and 200 do each day. Several lie motionless in an internal care unit. One man's chart says his spleen had to be removed but leaves no clue as to whether his injury was related to the quake that registered 7.6 on the Richter scale. A couple months ago eight in 10 patients were victims of the quake; today that number is about three in 10. But the Pentagon plans to keep running a series of hospitals like this one until the end of the harsh Pakistani winter.
Rumsfeld told reporters, in his plane en route to Pakistan, that it's no accident Pakistan has won the goodwill and aid of the United States. The nation is perhaps the most important American ally against al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters in neighboring Afghanistan, and the Bush administration was quick to help Pakistani President Pervaiz Musharraf.
Secretary DONALD RUMSFELD (US Department of Defense): I think it is important that the world recognize the relationships the United States has had in the past with moderate Muslim states and that we do at present have and that they see that the activities of the United States are to support those of that faith who are opposed to the people who cut off people's heads and caused 3,000 deaths in the United States and engage in violent extremist activities.
HENDREN: According to US military officials, the aid program has done what the Bush administration's global war on terror has not. It's changed Pakistanis' minds about Americans. A recent poll by AC Nielsen states that the percentage of Pakistanis with a favorable opinion of the United States has doubled to 46 percent over the past year. That's still less than a majority, but it happened even as American bombs and special operations troops assailed suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters just across the mountainous border with Afghanistan.
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HENDREN: Security here is light. Only a grated iron fence separates the American base from the busy streets on which elaborately painted jinga trucks carry supplies to Pakistanis, who live in the frigid and isolated Himalayan Mountains above. Subahar Kahn(ph) is a translator for the hospital who lives is Muzaffarabad. She says most of the patients had never met an American.
Ms. SUBAHAR KAHN (Translator): But now that you are here, they can see you, they can meet you, they can know you, so they know that these are very loving people. And I say that people just--when they go from here, they just leave--they don't want to go. Where there's a flame of hope, they are giving (unintelligible) nice thing.
HENDREN: The US military delivers nearly one-third of the 40 cargo planeloads of aid that reach Pakistan each day. But despite these efforts, some three million remain homeless. And the devastation that ravaged an estimated 3,000 medical centers will take years to fix, especially near the epicenter. Guatome Rana is the top State Department official here.
Mr. GUATOME RANA (State Department): Muzaffarabad City has been damaged fairly severely. I couldn't give you a number of estimated dead or injured, but it's in the tens of thousands. And the city has been severely hit.
HENDREN: Rear Admiral Mike LeFever is the American coordinator for the earthquake relief effort.
Rear Admiral MIKE LeFEVER (American Coordinator, Earthquake Relief Effort): I hear from the locals that they really enjoy the US presence. We've become a symbol of hope and relief. One of the toys that's in the market right now--it's kind of interesting--is a toy model of a Chinook helicopter. They associate all helicopters with relief, and US helicopters have been the primary aid provider.
HENDREN: LeFever says the improvement in Pakistanis' perspective on Americans is directly related to the relief effort. John Hendren, NPR News.
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