On Tuesday, Vice President Dick Cheney went to Kashmir and visited the survivors of October’s devastating earthquake. He did the right thing, and will win a lot of young hearts and minds in Pakistan and Kashmir for his political courage by demonstrating the truest of all American values–lending a helping hand to a friendly neighbor.
He put the adversity of men, women, and children facing subfreezing temperatures in the foothills of the Himalayas above even our nation’s most important business, where a budget battle was looming in Washington, calling for his presence to cast a tie-breaking vote. Putting people first–that was the central message of the Cheney visit.
He reminded the world that at the height of relief efforts just after the earthquake struck, America was there at Pakistan’s side first and often. The U.S. had more than 1,200 personnel and 24 helicopters, including Chinooks that I flew on when I was there last month, flying throughout the affected areas. American troops have flown more than 2,600 sorties to deliver nearly 12 million pounds of relief supplies, including food, medicines, prosthetics, winterized tents and blankets. Army medical technicians and doctors have cared for more than 11,000 Pakistanis and Kashmiris.
The vice president’s Himalayan diplomacy to win hearts and minds was in sharp contrast to some of the major media’s portrayal of Kashmir’s earthquake survivors as victims. Take for example the Sunday Washington Post photo journal by Andrea Bruce that relived the horrors of the earthquake’s immediate aftermath, over two months after those devastating 90 seconds changed a generation of Kashmiri lives forever. Bruce is a talented photojournalist who accurately captured the emotions, the anguish, the anger, and the desperation of the moments after the 7.6 magnitude quake struck on that cold morning in October. But why show that now, even for a year-end scrapbook?
Why not show the promise of rebuilding lives, peppering in where they started on that day to show how far they’ve come? Isn’t photojournalism also about hope and revival, and not just about death and destruction?
The people of Kashmir don’t need pity and a few hundred dollars contributed at some online portal to assuage our guilty consciences at Christmas time. They need us to respect them enough to help them rebuild their lives, with dignity and honor, in a way that we would do for our own neighbors if they went through such an ordeal. That’s why the Cheney visit was so important to them. And why the Post photo essay was so equally harmful to their cause.
At a time when U.S. troops are delivering medicines, prosthetics and winter tents, and a Chinook helicopter is a little girl’s favorite toy, the media could do a lot better in fairly and accurately depicting events overseas that affect the lives and security of the American people by showing us the whole story, not only parts that anger our enemy.
–Mansoor Ijaz, chairman of Crescent Investment Management, negotiated Sudan’s offer of counterterrorism assistance on al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden to the Clinton administration in April 1997 and co-authored the blueprint for a ceasefire of hostilities in Kashmir between Muslim militants and Indian security forces in the summer of 2000. He toured the earthquake stricken areas of Kashmir and northern Pakistan in mid-November (click here to view his photo essay of earthquake-stricken areas).