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Flood Relief: Chinese Focus on Gilgit-Baltistan & Sindh

The Chinese authorities have been highlighting two path-breaking aspects of their assistance for flood relief to Pakistan, which started on August 1,2010, and continues since then.

2. The first is the value of the assistance, which has already reached US $ 250 million (pledges plus actuals). This includes a sum of US $ 200 million pledged by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, in his address to the UN General Assembly in New York on September 22. According to Chinese officials, this is the largest humanitarian relief commitment overseas ever made by China.

3. The second is the deployment of humanitarian relief teams by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for assisting the Pakistani army in its aid efforts. According to Chinese officials, this is the first time that the PLA’s specially-trained disaster relief teams have been deployed abroad in large numbers. The PLA has deployed three teams—-two in Sindh and one in Gilgit-Baltistan. Mr. Huang Xilian, Deputy Chief of the Chinese mission in Islamabad, told a media briefing in Islamabad on September 23 as follows: “ It is for the first time in history that China has sent so many rescue and medical teams across its borders. The Chinese government sent a 55-member international search and rescue team, including 36 doctors and 19 technical support personnel, to the worst-hit region of Thatta in Sindh province late last month (August), which was the first international team to reach flood-hit areas of Thatta region. They brought with them 25 tons of high-tech medical equipment and medicine worth RMB 8 million. The second medical team of PLA, comprising 68 members along with relief goods including medicines weighing 80 tonnes, came to Pakistan and were deployed around the Sehwan area of Sindh province. Twenty members of this team are female, providing medical care to women and children. This is a record high in the history of PLA’s foreign medical aid. The fact that China has sent some 200 doctors and paramedics in three medical rescue teams by now is a record high in China ‘s foreign medical rescue history.”

4.The third disaster relief team has been deployed in the Hunza area of Gilgit-Baltistan since January when large areas were flooded following a burst of a large artificial lake created by a huge landslide.

5. The PLA command in Chinese-controlled Xinjiang despatched four military helicopters to carry out rescue and relief missions around the Hyderabad area of Sindh. A press release by the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad said: “It is the first time Chinese military helicopters carry out an overseas mission. The four military helicopters from China’s Xinjiang military area command took off from a military airfield in the western region along with ground support and relief supplies. They were previously engaged in transportation and search and rescue operations in the wake of several major natural disasters in China.” The helicopters are being flown by Chinese crew with one or two observers from the Pakistani army traveling in each flight.

6. The Chinese have mentioned the total PLA disaster relief personnel deputed to Sindh as about 200. They have not mentioned the total number sent to Gilgit-Baltistan, which includes disaster relief teams as well as engineering teams for repairing the badly damaged Karakoram Highway. Independent sources say that the total number of PLA personnel in the Gilgit-Baltistan area would be about 500.

7.The Chinese have been emphasizing that the assistance given by them till now is in the way of emergency relief and that they will be giving separate assistance later for the reconstruction of the damaged economy.

8. It is noticed that security considerations have played an important role in deciding the deployment of the deputed Chinese personnel. They have been deployed mostly in Sindh and Gilgit-Baltistan where, in the perception of the Chinese, there are unlikely to be any serious threats to the Chinese personnel. In the rest of the country (Punjab, Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtoonkwa and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas ) their assistance has been in kind. They seem to have avoided deputing any Chinese personnel for participating in ground operations . In the past there had been attacks on Chinese engineers in Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtoonkwa and FATA. In Punjab, there are pockets of Uighurs from the Chinese-controlled Xinjiang studying in madrasas or working. Many of them are suspected to have links with the so-called Punjabi Taliban organizations. Hence, the absence of Chinese relief teams in Punjab.

9. Despite the damages suffered by the Karakoram Highway due to the landslide of January and the floods of August, the Chinese engineers from the PLA have managed to keep the traffic moving. While the initial assistance in the beginning of August was airlifted to Islamabad from Chinese-controlled Xinjiang, the subsequent assistance has been coming by road along the Karakoram Highway. 101 Chinese trucks reached the Sust Dry Port via the Khunjerab Pass on Sept. 1, carrying flour and cooking oil. In fact, since the landslide and floods of January, the people living in the Hunza area are being kept largely sustained by the PLA in the Chinese-controlled Xinjiang region since the Pakistan Army is not able to reach them.

( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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