SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Socialism Today 96 - November 2005

Asian earthquake disaster

Eyewitness account from Bagh, by Khalid Bhatti

OUR JOURNEY to the devastated city of Bagh in Kashmir in a truck loaded with aid donated by Lahore’s working-class communities was one the most emotional and painful that we have ever experienced.

The first shock we received was when we reached Rawalakot (another affected city in Kashmir). We expected a totally destroyed city. Instead, we saw the big houses of the local ruling elite standing on their feet without any damage. This was contrary to the TV reports, which never mention this fact. The posh area of Rawalakot seemed unaffected by the quake. Anyone could get a wrong impression if they only went through the posh area, but after entering into the poor areas of Rawalakot, the real devastation can be seen.

The Combine Military Hospital was completely destroyed, killing hundreds of people. Government buildings, schools and colleges were also turned into rubble. But the shops and shopping centres survived this devastating earthquake. This clearly shows that the question of decent housing is not ‘irrelevant’, as many official commentators have claimed. The road from Rawalakot to Bagh was in very bad shape and almost non-existent in many places. We hardly saw any houses that were not destroyed. We saw hundreds of people sleeping along the road without any shelter during an extremely cold night. There were many people even without blankets.

When we entered Bagh city, there was no power, the whole place was in darkness. We reached our camp in the destroyed Government Boys High School building. This camp had a tent to store the food and blankets. All TURCP members slept under an open sky. We were given a sleeping place in one room (which was semi-destroyed), the only remaining part of the school building. We saw around 500 people demonstrating against the authorities and government for not providing tents. They remained there for two hours. The bitterness can be seen on every face in this completely destroyed city. The pain, frustration and fear can be seen in the eyes of the people who survived the quake.

We experienced the fear in the morning when a strong aftershock forced us to run out of the room we were sleeping in. A few minutes later another aftershock forced us to abandon the room and sit and sleep in the open. Soon we were soaked to the skin from heavy rain. Trade union activists, members of Socialist Liberation (CWI Kashmir) and Socialist Movement Pakistan (CWI Pakistan) told us that they have suffered these aftershocks and rainy weather for the last week. This is the life of all the survivors in Kashmir and the North-West Frontier Province.

We visited the city in daylight and it looked like no houses and buildings ever existed there before. We found it difficult to stand in the main street for even a minute because of the smell of decaying bodies that was coming out of the rubble. The most painful experience was the visit to Spring Field School where more than 700 students (from ages five to 14 perished). A few women were still calling for their children and crying. Hundreds of bags of sweets and shoes are still there, telling of the horrifying suffering of the students who perished. Hundreds of students are still buried under the rubble of the Degree College. Every family had casualties. Everyone is grieving. We met many people who lost their whole family. People are still in shock and emotionally shattered.

But the mood of working-class people is very angry. They feel betrayed by the Kashmiri ruling class and Pakistani government, which responded late and slowly. We spoke to many people and they all showed their complete mistrust of the ruling elite. This hatred and anger will increase in the coming days.

The conditions are worst in the villages in the mountains. When we reached there, it was the first help they had received. The women, children and elders were not only without food but also without blankets and clothes. There is no road in the mountains. Many people carry their injured relatives on their backs 20 to 30 miles to the field hospital in Bagh. Many people walk 30 to 40 miles without food and water to see relatives. All the houses on the mountains have been completely destroyed. These villages have been turned into graveyards.


SOCIALIST LIBERATION and Socialist Movement members from Kashmir and Pakistan immediately went to the affected areas to help the comrades, trade union activists and their families. Our members spent many nights without food or warm clothes. Azad Qadri, National Organising Secretary of the Trade Union Rights Campaign Pakistan (TURCP) has been working in the affected areas of Bagh.

We saw the respect our members have in the local communities when a mob of 300 desperate people tried to loot a camp set up by a Kashmiri group to distribute aid and medicine. Even the military personnel were not able to control the situation. Azad Qadri along with other activists intervened. When we asked why they were trying to loot the camp, they said that they wanted equal and fair distribution of aid. Azad made a brief speech and they unanimously accepted his proposal as to how the food and aid should be distributed. Now our members have been running this camp without any trouble for the last few days. TURC Kashmir and Pakistan are not only involved in the relief work but are also making every effort to unite political activists and trade unionists in Bagh and Rawalakot. We are trying to develop a campaign to build a strong trade union movement but also to organise the affected working-class people to get decent housing, health, education, employment and compensation.


Disaster affects the poorest most

Funds needed urgently

"I NEVER saw such devastation in my whole life. We are without food, medicines, water and electricity. We desperately need medicines, warm clothes and tents. Please help us otherwise we all will die". Sardar Khalid Mehmood, President of the Paramedic Staff Association Kashmir, in Muzafarabad.

Whole families, villages and towns have been wiped out by the earthquake of 8 October. Government agencies and the army have not even reached many affected areas. The death toll is already 60,000. Millions have been affected. Six members of the TURCP and Socialist Movement Pakistan in Kalam (Swat Valley) were tragically killed by the quake.

The worst affected have been the poorest workers and peasants. Emergency services have simply collapsed. Last year, the Musharraf government spent 45% of its budget on the military and only 1.3% on the health service. Clinics are filled to overflowing. School buildings have been left dilapidated for decades by successive governments.

Millions of Pakistani and Kashmiri workers and youth have given food, clothing and money. But the government has not matched this with action on the ground. Western governments have given meagre aid, yet Bush has spent over $66 billion on military operations in Afghanistan.

A response from activists and trade unionists is vital. Many aid agencies will be collecting. Unfortunately, this will be distributed by the same corrupt government whose policies increased the death toll. The TURCP is appealing for trade unions to make donations which will go directly to help workers and trade unionists. The money will also be used to build unions in affected areas and to campaign to ensure that the rebuilding is carried out in the interests of the working class and poor, and that big business does not profit out of people’s suffering.

All donations will be acknowledged and regular reports will explain how the donations are being used.

Our campaign has set up a bank account in London for collections outside Asia.

Please make cheques payable to: TURCP.

Send to: Trade Union Rights Campaign Pakistan, PO Box 52135, London E9 5WR, Britain.

Or by bank transfer to:


Account number: 0574699

Sort code: 30-95-03

Leytonstone Lloyds TSB Branch

797-799 High Road Leytonstone

London E11 4QS

If sending a bank transfer, please email the details to: (or by post to the TURCP address).

TURCP was set up in April 2005 to help coordinate support for workers’ struggles against the neo-liberal agenda of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund which is followed slavishly by the Musharraf government.

The following Pakistan unions have backed the campaign: Railway Workers Union Workshops, PTCL Joint Workers’ Action Committee, PTCL Lions Union, Postal Employees Union, Muthida Labour Federation, Informal Sector Workers’ Organisation, Teachers’ Union, Commercial Workers’ Union Lahore, RMS Employees’ Union, Pakistan State Life Staff Union, Agriculture Workers’ Union.


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