I rule a graveyard, says Sikander
10 October 2005
The Daily Times
Muzaffarabad: I am the prime minister of a graveyard, surveying the ruined capital from a tent where I have slept since a weekend earthquake destroyed towns and villages of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), said Sikander Hayat Khan, the AJK prime minister. 'It's the biggest natural disaster. It has totally paralysed Kashmir,' he said in the tent on the lawn of his official residence in Muzzafarabad. 'For the first two days we have been either digging ground to recover bodies or digging to bury them. Kashmir has turned into a graveyard.' Survivors throughout the Himalayan region are living in fear of aftershocks, and Khan's aides persuaded him to abandon the residence in case it collapsed around him. Burying the dead and relocating the homeless are top priorities for Khan, although his own administration has been rendered totally helpless by the destruction of infrastructure, communications and transport links. Like others, he expects the death toll to go beyond 20,000 in Kashmir alone, without counting the dead from NWFP. Ahead lies the risk of more deaths from disease and exposure for the nearly 1.5 million Kashmiris affected by the quake on Pakistan's side of the ceasefire line with India. Khan welcomed India's offers of help as a positive sign for the peace process with Pakistan. However, despair over the tragedy his people faced could not erase ingrained distrust of India's motives. 'They offered us help on humanitarian grounds and I hope that there should be no politics involved in it,' Khan said.