Organising from below

Farooq Tariq, general secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan, responds to our request for information on the relief efforts of the left, and comments on the religious charity, Islamic Relief, favoured by the Socialist Workers Party

While Islamic Relief was the first organisation to reach the affected area of Muzafar Garh, I think the left in the UK should help organisations like ours, which was the first to reach certain areas of Kashmir. The UK left should aid alternative organisations that are not based on religion. We in the Labour Party Pakistan have a policy of not working with the fundamentalist organisations and this has helped the LPP to build an alternative platform. So far, we have sent relief goods collected from within Pakistan worth four million rupees ($66,600) to the devastated areas. No other left group in Pakistan has raised that much inside the country. Now the LPP is busy in negotiations with others to build 100 houses in one area of Kashmir. The LPP initially started the Labour Relief Campaign, but has now become involved in a broader organisation. On October 16, several political and social groups got together in Lahore to form the Citizens Relief Committee. The main purpose of the CRC is to help the earthquake victims with relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction work. It was felt that a coordinated effort is a must to aid the victims in more effective manner. There was a tremendous response from people all over Pakistan after the earthquake. But the difficulty in delivering relief in a more coordinated manner became apparent in the first few days. Most of the organisations involved in the CRC had been doing relief work from day one, but there was no common citizens' response to this, the most disastrous incident in the whole history of Pakistan. It was also felt that there were prominent individuals who have the ability, credibility and potential to do this relief and rehabilitation work. They must be brought into a network where their expertise could be used in a more effective manner. It was decided that the relief and rehabilitation work would be carried out in a targeted way, according to our capacity to do the job. The destruction is on massive scale and we had no choice but to restrict ourselves to two selected areas. It was also agreed that the most downtrodden people would be the first ones we would help. After some discussion, it was decided upon Paniloa town in the Rawalkot district of Kashmir, and some isolated villages in the Balakot district in North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Paniola is a small town, 12 kilometres from Balakot. There are 38 villages nearby, located on both sides - upward on the mountains and downward towards the valley. The damage from the October 8 earthquake was colossal. We estimate that the total number of casualties in this area, where there are around 62,000 registered votes, is nearly 350. In addition almost all the houses have either been destroyed or damaged. It is mainly an area comprising working people. Some have gone to the Middle East and many to other parts of Pakistan in search of work. There are very few who could be regarded as rich or even middle class. There is no industry in the area, the main work being petty trading and selling milk and goats. Some also sell grass. Most of the people have to live outside their demolished houses and some have tents. Many have made some sort of shelter from blankets and sheets. But the winter is approaching and the situation will get worse. For the first two days, no help arrived from anywhere, although several truckloads of supplies passed on route for Rawalkot and Bagh. This was a great cause of frustration for the villagers. Nisar Shah, the Labour Party Pakistan chairperson, comes from this area, although he is now a practising advocate in Karachi. He was able to come here on October 9. The first help, sent by the Labour Relief Campaign from Lahore, arrived on October 11. This was followed by several more trucks. Several volunteers from Lahore LPP stayed for a few days to help survey the area and distribute supplies. The setting up of local committees remained just an idea until the arrival of the first relief truck on October 11. Previously the locals suspected this might just be talk. But since then 13 village committees have been set up, with a central relief committee now working under the name of the Citizens Relief Committee and headed by Nisar Shah. A team of 10 members from Lahore visited the area on October 18. It needs immediate and long-term relief and rehabilitation work, with shelter, food and medicine the immediate priorities. After the initial relief efforts by the CRC, it was decided to go for rehabilitation. There was a suggestion that community centres should be built, which will include schools and medical facilities. It was also decided to build houses in the target areas. The other focal area of our work is in the NWFP. In the villages of Sanghar, Kashian, Bhanghian and Josach in the Balakot district, one of the worst hit areas, there are 80% casualties and 100% destruction of houses. These villages are around 30 kilometres from Balakot city. Some aid finally arrived after five days - the Labour Relief Campaign being the first to reach the area on October 13. Here too, a local relief committee has been established to help coordinate the work, although teams from China and the army have now reached the area and provided some tents, food and medicine. We have sent nine truckloads of food, tents, medicine, blankets and clothes. These have been distributed by the local committees and by the volunteers of Labour Relief Campaign. We have established a temporary office and a store in Paniola. Here we are still the only ones helping. Every day, dozens of village people - from the mountains and the valley - come to the office to ask for help. Organisations involved in the Citizens Relief Committee are: Labour Party Pakistan, Foundation for Democracy Pakistan, Labour Education Foundation Pakistan, National Trade Union Federation Pakistan, Women Workers Help Line, The Helpers. The Labour Education Foundation office will be temporarily used for the contacts and meetings. Contact details Furrukh Sohail Goindi, Labour Education Foundation, Sufi Mansion, 7 Egerton Road, Lahore, Pakistan. Tel: +92 42 630 3808; fax: +92 42 627 1149; lef@lef.org.pk; www.lef.org.pk.