The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Army in a relief battle it can’t win

Oct. 11: Humiliated and outraged, Anwar Hussain’s voice cracks and his words are barely audible as he shouts at the young army captain, waves his fist and urges the driver of his taxi to push on.

In the seat behind him, his frail mother, her head and her left hand bandaged but bleeding, stares with eyes that look unseeing.

“Can’t you see,” a tearful Hussain is yelling at and pleading with the army officer at the same time, “she may die; I must get her to the hospital in Baramulla.”

People from his village on the outskirts of Uri have gathered around the car and the restive mob, many of them with red, flaring eyes from two sleepless and shelterless nights, is on the verge of getting violent.

But the young captain from Bangalore has his orders and his INSAS rifle. The orders stipulate that all cars and people passing through his checkpoint must be frisked.

This is Kashmir today. Kashmir is a word for disaster relief in a war zone.

It calls for an effort of gargantuan proportions that cannot easily be imagined even in Bhuj (earthquake) and Nagapattinam (tsunami). The calamity has not meant a stop to either militancy or counter-insurgency operations.

However energetic the efforts look here, they are still feeble given the enormity of the disaster.

Just 7 km from where Hussain was pleading with the captain to let his patient through, on the helipad of the Kala Pahar Brigade, army and air force personnel are rushing with stretchers bearing bloodied bodies from helicopter to field ambulance to helicopter.

The stretcher-bearers ' jawans ' hardly have time to catch their breath. There just aren’t enough flying machines to evacuate all the casualties to Srinagar’s hospitals. Security check at the entrance to the brigade’s establishment is tight.

In six years, there has been an earthquake in Gujarat, a tsunami off Tamil Nadu, a cyclone in Orissa and there is a drought in so many districts 24/7.

Last week, Air Chief Marshal Shashi Tyagi described the past 12 months as “the year of aid to civil authority”.

A National Disaster Management Authority under General (retired) N.C. Vij was set up last month but it was busy trying to find living quarters for the former chief of army staff when the earthquake in Kashmir struck.

In Kashmir, one of the most militarised regions in the world, the army has responded with wartime urgency because it was already here, because it is part of the life of this place. Yet there are distractions.

Since this morning the hubs of emergency operations ' the airport and the air force station in Srinagar, the helipads in Uri and Tangdhar and the entrances and exits to them ' are choking with security personnel. There is a third VIP visit in three days. After Sonia Gandhi and Pranab Mukherjee, it’s Manmohan Singh.

Uri and Tangdhar need porters to carry tents and food, stretcher-bearers to transport the injured and doctors to help those who can survive. The Congress president, the defence minister and the Prime Minister rank in none of these groups.

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