Views on the US aid to Pakistani earthquake victims
American aid to Pakistan irks hard-liners
By Matti Huuhtanen
The Associated Press
Salt Lake Tribune
MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan - The U.S. military has sent helicopters, a field hospital and a construction battalion to earthquake-stricken Pakistan - a gesture that has irritated Islamic hard-liners but may help improve Washington's image in the Muslim world after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
''When they do something against Muslims, we condemn them. Now as they are helping us, we should appreciate them,'' said Yar Mohammed, 48, a farmer in Muzaffarabad, the devastated capital of Pakistan's portion of the divided Himalayan region of Kashmir.
''We are facing hard times, and they are helping us.''
The disaster also has given Pakistan and India a new opening for furthering peace efforts that began early last year, particularly over Kashmir, where the neighbors have fought two wars and where Islamic separatists have fought for 16 years against Indian security forces.
Early Sunday, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said the two nations agreed on opening the heavily fortified frontier in Kashmir to improve earthquake relief efforts in the region's two parts, which were the worst hit by the Oct. 8 tremor that killed some 80,000 people and left 3 million homeless.
The border will be opened on Nov. 7 at five points, where relief shipments and civilian Kashmiris will be permitted to cross, the announcement said.
American help in Pakistan started a day after the 7.6-magnitude quake, as the U.S. military immediately started diverting some two dozen heavy-lifting helicopters from its operations in neighboring Afghanistan.
Pakistan is a key Washington ally in the war on terrorism and supported the U.S.-led war that ousted the Taliban in Afghanistan, but President Gen. Pervez Musharraf had refused to let U.S. soldiers operate on Pakistani soil during a search for Osama bin Laden because of domestic opposition.
So despite the humanitarian crisis, some Islamic hard-liners have bristled at the presence of U.S. troops.
''There is no need for American forces here. I think our intelligence agencies should monitor the activities of Americans in sensitive areas like Kashmir,'' said Ameer ul-Azeem, spokesman for the Islamic opposition coalition, Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, which governs a province hit severely by the quake.
Analysts say most Pakistanis welcome America's help - particularly its helicopters, invaluable for reaching isolated mountain communities facing the onset of the harsh Himalayan winter.
''Most Pakistanis are grateful for aid coming from any quarter,'' said Khalid Mahmood, a research analyst at the Institute of Regional Studies in the capital Islamabad. ''This [U.S. assistance] will have a positive effect and will help lessen hostility in the Islamic world to the Americans.''