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Why is it so hard for Pakistan to accept Indian aid?

August 18, 2010

Over a fifth of Pakistan's surface has been flooded. The UN has called for 460 million dollars in emergency aid. The government has called for more aid but it seems reluctant to take any money from its neighbor India.

Millions of Pakistanis are in dire need of aid
Millions of Pakistanis are in dire need of aidImage: AP

India is still waiting for a response from its arch-rival Pakistan to its offer of $ 5 million (ca. 4 million euros) in relief material.

"This hesitation has something to do with our national pride," Sajjad Nasser, a Pakistani political expert based in Lahore, told Deutsche Welle.

"On the other hand, considering the scale of this terrible catastrophe, all help should be welcome. But the Pakistani government also has to consider the political consequences. It is in a weak position and its credibility is currently under debate in the media. To take money from India in such a situation could damage its image even more," he said.

Mutual assistance during natural disasters

In the past 10 years, the two rival nuclear powers have offered aid to each other again and again, whenever a natural disaster has struck. When 25,000 people were killed in an earthquake in Gujarat in 2001, Pakistan sent tents, food and blankets to survivors.

India offered $25 million when an earthquake in Pakistani-administered Kashmir killed 80,000 in 2005
India offered $25 million when an earthquake in Pakistani-administered Kashmir killed 80,000 in 2005Image: AP

Four years later, India put its helicopters at Pakistan's disposal when an earthquake in Pakistan-administered Kashmir killed 80,000. However, the president of the time, Pervez Musharraf, rejected this offer, saying the helicopters should be flown by Pakistani pilots.

But one positive outcome was that the so-called "Line of Control" that divides Kashmir between India and Pakistan was opened up. Kashmiris on either side were thus able to help with the reconstruction. India also promised 25 million dollars in aid.

Sajjad Nasser explained why such gestures were so important: "Relations between India and Pakistan have to be seen from two perspectives. On the one hand, there are relations between the governments, which have certain limitations. But diplomacy between the people is different. For 12 to 14 years already, journalists and other civil society groups have been able to meet each other. Just last week Indian journalists in Lahore collected donations for the flood victims. This is very important because it's only when such movements are stronger that they'll be able to exert pressure on governments and lead to improved relations."

Politics should not matter in times of catastrophe

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since their independence in 1947. Attempts at a long-lasting peace process have failed. The attacks on Mumbai in November 2008 were a serious setback.

The Mumbai attacks of November 2008 have put a strain on Indo-Pakistani relations
The Mumbai attacks of November 2008 have put a strain on Indo-Pakistani relationsImage: picture-alliance/dpa

However, Indian security expert Afsar Karim does not understand why this should matter right now: "I'm extremely disappointed and I don't understand why politics are coming into it when this is a humanitarian catastrophe."

In Pakistan, many seemed to agree with the Indian expert: "India is our neighbor. What's so bad about taking help from our neighbor?" one woman asked.

"In my opinion, this offer of help is about sympathy for other humans. We are taking help from the whole world, why not from India? It shouldn't be such a big problem," one survivor said.

"If India really wants to help us we should take the aid," another man agreed. "This is also a question of the future. Maybe India will be in such a situation one day and we'll help them. That's what being human is about."

Pakistanis are still waiting to see whether Islamabad will accept Delhi's offer of help.

Author: Priya Esselborn / act
Editor: Disha Uppal