Picking up the Pieces

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The government's delayed reaction has played into the hands of militant Islamic groups. Organized and hardworking, the jihadis seized on the catastrophe to blame Musharraf's alliance with the U.S. in the war on terror for incurring Allah's wrath. The quake may have helped the radicals' cause. In Chehla Bandi village, members of an outlawed organization known as Lashkar-e-Taiba, sympathetic to al-Qaeda, were the first rescue workers to arrive. They cooked food, helped to bury the dead and shoveled through the debris to find the living. "They saved us when nobody came from the government," says one survivor, Ali Geelani, 28, "and if they ask me, I will go for jihad with them. Musharraf has given us the earthquake; they have given us life."

To be fair to Musharraf, the quake's epicenter was just 95 km north of the capital Islamabad, which also suffered damage, and the impact was cataclysmic, especially for a poor nation such as Pakistan. Stung by criticism, Musharraf pointedly told one Pakistani TV interviewer that his government had reacted a lot faster to the temblor than the Bush Administration had to Hurricane Katrina. But those factors probably won't lessen the political fallout for Musharraf, who faces the daunting task of rebuilding the northern third of his country, which will cost billions of dollars Pakistan does not have, at a time when extremist religious parties have already begun sniping at him for the army's slow response to the quake.

Because Musharraf's support of the Bush Administration's war on terror is unpopular with many Pakistanis, the U.S. jumped at the chance to join in the earthquake relief operations. Washington has promised $50 million in emergency aid, and already an airlift of blankets, plastic sheets, medical supplies and disaster-survival kits is being parachuted by C-130 army cargo planes to victims in the quake zone. But the Bush Administration has to balance its aid to Pakistan with its priorities in Afghanistan, where fighting against the Taliban has worsened in recent months. The Pakistani relief effort, said one Kabul-based U.S. official last Tuesday, has "sliced away some of our capacity in Afghanistan. So far, it hasn't impeded the war on terror—but it will if it goes past another 10 days." Most likely, the eight choppers on loan will return to their combat duties in Afghanistan, and other air support will be flown to Pakistan from American navy facilities in the Gulf, where they are serving as back-up for the Iraq war. This will put yet another burden on the U.S.'s resources in its two battle theaters. "Fixing Pakistan is going to take a while," says U.S. army spokesman Colonel Jim Yonts in Islamabad.

By Saturday, weary rescue teams had given up hope of finding another miracle case like Zarabe and were packing up their sniffer dogs to fly home. But even as waves of smaller quakes kept battering the region, the Indian and Pakistani armies overcame their initial sluggishness and were ferrying out relief packages and doctors to remote villages. Often, the choppers had to dodge rockslides from the peaks above as the pilots navigated the walled-in river valleys.

No amount of relief will alleviate the grief of those who have lost family and friends. On the Indian side of Kashmir, Manhas wanders through the graveyard under a yew tree pointing at fresh graves, overlaid with rocks and thorns to keep away hungry dogs. In all, Manhas helped to bury 70 people, many of them his relatives. "We had no coffins, so we made shrouds out of the cloth for winter quilts. I told people we didn't have time to wash the dead, and to bury them wherever they could, in their gardens, in their fields, because we didn't have space for everybody in the graveyard." After decades of conflict, Kashmiris must have thought they had suffered enough. But fate had more in store for them; and winter is coming.

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