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Earthquake Relief for Pakistan

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, the people of Kashmir are no strangers to hardship. Their beautiful, tragic land has been the arena of full-scale warfare between India and Pakistan, a long-running insurgency marked by exceptional brutality and penetration by terrorist groups in league with al-Qaida.

On October 8, the people of Kashmir suffered the most devastating blow yet: A massive earthquake killed about as many Kashmiris in just a few minutes as all the bullets and bombs of massed armies were able to kill there over the previous half-century. And unless we act now, the casualty count will climb even higher.

At latest count, the quake's death toll is somewhere between 55,000 and 80,000. An estimated 3 million people are now homeless. As the survivors spend day after miserable day with little food or water, little medical care, little protection from the bitterly cold winter temperatures that have already hampered relief efforts, the number of the dead will certainly rise.

Residents of the Indian-administered portion of Kashmir were hit hard: 1,400 have died, a number greater than the death toll of Katrina. But the worst devastation has been felt in the area administered by Pakistan, which has borne the brunt of the disaster.

For Pakistan, the earthquake was at least 40 Katrinas, all rolled into one.

The capitol of Pakistani Kashmir has been largely destroyed. Relief efforts will cost billions of dollars, and repairs to the very most basic infrastructure will cost billions more.

American helicopter pilots and other military personnel have performed heroically in the rescue operation. The first 72 hours after a disaster of this magnitude are vital, since this is the window in which trapped survivors have a realistic chance of being brought out alive. As of last week, October 17, 442 U.S. personnel and 11 helicopters were involved in the effort, and the U.S. military had evacuated 2,500 survivors. I am proud of our service men and women, and I wholeheartedly support President Bush's decision to deploy our military assets to this mission of mercy.

I would like to see far more of our choppers devoted to this vital effort: With only 30 percent of the affected villages reachable by road, the single greatest need is for every utility helicopter that can be rushed to the scene; we've got Chinooks, Blackhawks, and other suitable craft right across the border in Afghanistan, and I hope the administration will immediately shift more of these assets to the short-term mission of saving lives.

I also support the President's pledge of financial aid for the reconstruction effort--indeed, I rise today to urge President Bush to send more aid. This is no time for half-measures.

If there is one thing we all should have learned from Katrina and the Southeast Asian tsunami, it is that an effective, rapid, well-funded response is necessary to prevent a terrible tragedy from spiraling into an uncontrolled disaster.

As of today, October 24, the total amount of earthquake aid committed by the administration has been about $27 million. President Bush has pledged ``up to'' $50 million, and Secretary Rice has hinted that the total figure might be higher than this, but so far--2 weeks after the tragedy--these are still vague abstractions. The costs for tsunami relief proved far higher than the initial estimates--or the initial U.S. pledge. It is a safe bet that the needs for this tragedy will also prove much greater than initial estimates. It is far too early to cap our contribution.

The U.N. has sought $312 million to meet immediate needs but has found the world community willing to pledge barely a quarter of this amount--and the White House's response has been to promise less than 4 percent of this modest sum, per USAID fact-sheet of 10/21: $10.8 million to U.N. flash appeal. Mr. President, we need to do much more, to do it much faster--and we need the administration to start telling us some answers:

How much money will we actually spend? And where will it come from? Does the administration plan to shift funds from existing accounts for Pakistan, in which case the President's pledge would look like a bait-and-switch? Would the funds come from existing disaster accounts, in which case every dollar sent to Kashmir would potentially be a dollar taken from Darfur, Guatemala, or Niger?

With so many pressing needs here in the United States, some may ask why send any aid overseas. Let's take care of our own people, some may say, leave other nations to take care of themselves.

But this is a false choice. We can take care of our own people and fulfill our moral duty to our fellow human beings elsewhere in the world.

When we were struck by the tragedy of Katrina, 90 nations offered us assistance--including a pledge of $1 million from Pakistan. Aiding the victims of the Kashmiri earthquake is the right thing to do, and it is also in our vital national interest. As we have seen in the aftermath of the Asian tsunami this year, disaster relief is one of the most effective--and cost-effective--tools in our diplomatic or political arsenal.

Other nations recognize the twinned moral and political need for generous humanitarian response. Some 30 countries have sent relief aid to Pakistan, countries including Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, France, Spain, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Iran, Jordan, Syria and Afghanistan. Several, including Britain and Turkey, sent specialized search-and-rescue teams to pull survivors out of the rubble.

Others have already established mobile field hospitals that are saving hundreds--maybe thousands--of lives on a daily basis. Even Pakistan's longtime rival India sent planeloads of tents, medicine, and other supplies.

The U.S. has been generous, but so too have other countries. If the administration does indeed follow through on President Bush's $50 million promise, that would be half the amount pledged by Kuwait, half the amount pledged by the United Arab Emirates. Last weekend, Saudi Arabia announced an aid package of $133 million. We are not the only country involved in this relief effort and our contribution should reflect our Nation's true generosity of spirit.

It is not just nations that are joining the effort: private individuals and groups have opened their hearts and wallets. Here in this country, NGOs like Mercy Corps, CARE, the International Rescue Committee, Save the Children and the Red Cross have collected many thousands of dollars.

In one development that builds upon an encouraging warming of ties between Pakistan and Israel, President Musharraf has specifically welcomed the contributions of American Jewish charities.

But there are other organizations whose support is more troubling: extremist groups have been in the forefront of disaster relief. There is a desperate need for more assistance--and that void is being filled by groups hostile to American interests.

Jamaat ul-Dawa, an affiliate of the terrorist group Lashkar-e Taiba, has been operating a major field hospital complete with x-ray facilities and an operating theater--a facility so capable that it has been treating casualties of the Pakistani military itself.

More than a week after the earthquake, the U.S. had still not set up a mobile field hospital, despite the proximity of resources in Afghanistan and the Middle East; I hope that by now such a facility is in operation. We have the finest military medical personnel in the world, and they are eager to save as many lives as they can.

Why has the administration been unable to accomplish a vital humanitarian task that is currently being carried out by a terrorist affiliate?

And Jamaat ul-Dawa isn't the only extremist group filling this need. The AI-Khidmat Foundation, the charity branch of hardline Islamist party Jamaat-e Islami, has organized relief convoys, medical facilities and camps sheltering survivors.

The Al-Rasheed trust, a group whose U.S. assets have been frozen on the suspicion that it channeled funds to al-Qaida is highly visible in a variety of relief efforts.

There's nothing new about extremist groups performing social services. Hezbollah, Hamas, the Tamil Tigers, and a variety of other groups on the Foreign Terrorist Organization list have long bolstered their base of support by providing social welfare programs--especially where the government has been either unable or unwilling to meet its citizens' most basic needs.

The extremists know that such programs build goodwill among the populace. They have learned a lesson already known to every U.S. military officer: You can't win a war with bombs alone, you have to win hearts and minds.

Our military professionals know this, but it sometimes seems as if the civilian leadership in the White House has forgotten the lesson. We had an opportunity to demonstrate our friendship to the Pakistani people, to the Kashmiris on both sides of the line of control, to Muslims throughout the globe, and instead we have failed to match our commitment with our superpower status. Every day we let the extremists fill the void is another opportunity wasted.

The Asian tsunami provides a shining example of the need for rapid action, and what we can accomplish when we do things right.

The initial response from the White House was disappointing: for the first week after the tragedy, the administration lagged behind other nations, including small countries with far inferior resources than we possess.

But once the administration decided to match America's contribution with our superpower status, we leapt to the forefront of the relief effort. When the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier group and other naval assets arrived on the scene, they immediately established us the leader of the global response.

The sailors, marines and other service members did an absolutely superb job: They performed an act of public diplomacy more powerful than any dollars-and-sense reckoning could calculate.

They showed that the U.S. military is not merely a fearsome adversary but also a powerful friend.

This effort had an immediate impact: In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, popular attitudes towards the United States profoundly improved, almost overnight. Before George Bush took office, 75 percent of Indonesians had a favorable impression of the United States; by 2003, that number had fallen to 15 percent.

But in the aftermath of the tsunami, Indonesians saw Americans as friends rather than foes. In a survey sponsored by the nonpartisan group Terror Free Tomorrow, 65 percent of respondents had a more favorable view of the United States after the arrival of the USS Abraham Lincoln.

This public attitude is directly reflected in Indonesian views of the war on terror. In the same poll, support for Osama bin Laden dropped from 58 percent prior to the tsunami to 23 percent afterward. For the first time in any major poll, a plurality, 40 percent, supported the U.S.-led fight against terrorism.

And this isn't merely a matter of poll numbers: Indonesian-based extremist groups tried to use their relief operations in the tsunami-ravaged province of Aceh as a tool for recruitment, and due in large part to the strong U.S. response these groups utterly failed to make headway. When they tried to preach anti-American sentiments, the people of Aceh shut them down cold: The survivors of the tsunami knew better because they had seen American sailors and marines saving lives.

The lesson is clear: Our humanitarian duty and our national security interests here are in complete accord. When we use our military and financial strength to save lives, we help drain the swamp of terrorism.

We accomplished a tremendous feat in the tsunami recovery effort. For the price of just a few days' operating expenses in Iraq, we bought an incalculable amount of goodwill among the 210 million Muslims in Indonesia, and improved our standing among many other Muslims worldwide.

Today, we have the chance to replicate our success. We can do in Pakistan what we did in Indonesia: prove that America is not engaged in a crusade against Islam.

We can demonstrate--with deeds, not empty words--that we are allies rather than adversaries. We can show that we, and not the extremists or the terrorists, are the best friends that the people of Muslim nations could want to have.

We can do this, but we can't do it on the cheap. We can't do it with just a dozen helicopters and $27 million and a promise that eventually we may contribute half as much as Kuwait.

Mr. President, I urge this Chamber to do more. And I urge the administration to immediately match our contribution with the vital need at hand: With Pakistan reeling from the worst natural disaster in its history, we can't afford to let our response be too little and too late.

Today, Mr. President, our moral duty and our national security interest are one.

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