Pakistan's October 2005 Earthquake has Major Implications for Democratization and Regional Peacemaking

The response by Pakistan’s government to the 8 October 2005 earthquake in the Northwest Frontier Province and Kashmir was generally ill-planned and poorly executed, leading to the unnecessary loss of countless lives, according to a new report by the International Crisis Group (ICG).

This inadequate response reflects the military’s institutional shortcomings—the army was prepared for fighting India, not for humanitarian action. Yet the military insisted on controlling relief operations and reconstruction planning, sidelining parliament, civil society organizations, and affected communities. Assistance to survivors has been marred by widespread local corruption and discrimination in distribution of aid. The lack of civilian oversight and inadequate accountability and transparency could seriously undermine the rehabilitation process.

The ICG report criticizes the willingness of international donors to accept military directives and priorities. It urges the international community to use reconstruction aid to counter jihadi influence, support Pakistan’s democratic transition, and promote regional peace. International humanitarian organizations should shift their approach from an “embedded relationship” with the military to an effective partnership with elected officials and credible and moderate civil society organizations.

The Pakistani government has accepted a major role for “jihadi” (extremist Islamist) groups in humanitarian relief efforts, helping them to bolster their presence in the earthquake-affected areas. Ultimately, this may fuel political and social conflict within Pakistan. But it could also impede confidence-building and conflict resolution vis-à-vis India. The October earthquake did lead to some minor confidence-building measures between Pakistan and India, but did not overcome fundamental mistrust between the two neighbors.

Related Links:

International Crisis Group, Pakistan: Political Impact of the Earthquake, Asia Briefing No. 46, 15 March 2006.