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India/Pakistan Disaster Diplomacy

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India/Pakistan Disaster Diplomacy

Gujarat Earthquake (26 January 2001)


  • 26 January 2001. An earthquake disaster kills approximately 25,000 people in India. BBC Coverage.

  • 30 January 2001. Pakistan offers assistance to India. BBC Coverage.

  • 2 February 2001. The leaders of India and Pakistan speak for the first time. BBC Coverage.

  • 14 to 16 July 2001. The leaders of India and Pakistan hold a summit in India. BBC Coverage.

  • 15 August 2001. India's leader verbally attacks Pakistan on Independence Day. BBC Coverage.

  • 13 December 2001. India's parliament is attacked by militants. Five attackers are killed along with six police officers and a gardener. President Musharraf and Kashmiri separatist groups condemn the attack, but in the following weeks tension rises and links are reduced between India and Pakistan. BBC Coverage.

  • January to April 2002. Relations between India and Pakistan, as well as amongst the other southeast Asian countries, move up and down. Agreements are made between India and Pakistan, but insults are exchanged and demands are made by both sides which are refused by the other. Security and terrorist incidents plague Kashmir. On 30 April 2002, Musharraf held a referendum to retain power for five more years. Pakistan's Election Commission claimed that over 97% voted in favour of extending Musharraf's mandate. On 28 January 2002, one moderate earthquake hit Pakistan and one moderate earthquake hit India. BBC Coverage.

  • May to July 2002. Following a major terrorist incident in India-controlled Kashmir, relations between India and Pakistan descend to the point where the world feared war. Disaster diplomacy and the July 2001 summit are rarely mentioned. Instead, the view from the media and the world's politicians focuses on these states as old enemies who have fought wars before and who could easily do so again.

  • April to May 2003. India and Pakistan talk about restoring diplomatic ties, air links, and test matches between their two countries. Pakistan offers to get rid of its nuclear weapons if India does the same.

Despite the continued waxing and waning of hostility and diplomacy between these countries, the events have not displayed any obvious disaster diplomacy connections. The earthquake and summit continue to receive little mention. Why did disaster diplomacy apparently not work in the long-term for India and Pakistan? Instead, diplomacy has continued at a pace with which the two countries are comfortable.


  • By Ilan Kelman (4 August 2001). Quotations refer to the BBC stories referenced above:
             The 2 February 2001 phone call did "provide the impetus to start long-awaited talks between the two countries" since the two leaders met from 14 to 16 July 2001 in India. Despite high hopes, a final declaration could not be agreed upon and, despite many successes from the summit, the commentary generally indicated that it was a failure. Prime Minister Vajpayee called President Musharraf "quite clueless about our history, politics, and rules of international diplomacy" amongst other insults. Prime Minister Vajpayee also offered to resign on 31 July for various reasons, dominated by internal squabbles and scandals but including the summit's failure. His offer was rejected by his party.
             Furthermore, on 20 June 2001 just prior to the summit in India, General Musharraf deposed Pakistan's President and took the position and title for himself, presumably to consolidate his power but also seemingly to give himself a more prestigious position--above that of Prime Minister Vajpayee--for the upcoming negotiations. Such action is hardly conducive to either fostering trust between enemies or indicating a commitment to peace and democracy (which, admittedly, was probably not foremost in President Musharraf's mind).
             Nonetheless, the summit did bring these enemies together and both leaders seemed to genuinely seek, and wish they had found more, common ground. This process will hopefully build trust between them and permit further moves towards peace in the future: Prime Minister Vajpayee has agreed to visit Pakistan by the end of 2001. The summit was thus the starting point for what is always a slow and difficult process. And the earthquake was certainly a trigger for the summit.
             Research is needed, however, to determine whether the disaster was the only or the dominant trigger or whether the two leaders were moving towards closer ties anyway but needed a face-saving excuse, conveniently provided by the deaths of 25,000 people in an event which could be blamed on uncontrollable forces (even though poor construction practice was the true cause). Despite the potentially so-called good timing of the earthquake, there was still no overriding need for Pakistan to offer assistance to India or for the leaders to chat, yet it happened. But who did initiate the phone call and why did the other accept it? If the talks were "long-awaited" what other mechanism or forum for them was anticipated? This case study is an example of disaster diplomacy, though much more than an earthquake is needed to resolve the conflict, hence it further illustrates that the role of disaster is a catalyst, not a creator, of diplomacy.

Other Sources:

  • From The Telegraph (30 January 2001, p. 14):
             "Children pulled out alive from quake rubble"
    Pakistan joined the growing list of countries sending aid to India, raising the possibility of "earthquake diplomacy" - similar to the mutual humanitarian gestures that helped to improve relations between Greece and Turkey after earthquakes in both countries in 1999.
    India and Pakistan have fought three wars and relations are perennially tense over the conflict in disputed Indian-controlled Kashmir. Pakistan's military ruler, Gen Pervaiz Musharraf, complained at first that India had turned down a Pakistani offer to send sniffer dogs.
    But later Pakistan's Foreign Minister, Abdul Sattar, announced that New Delhi had welcomed Islamabad's offer of tents and blankets. India's Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, toured the region worst affected in a helicopter yesterday and said the rescue effort had to be accelerated.

  • From The Hindu (5 February 2001):
             "'Earthquake diplomacy' has a precedent"
    By K.K. Katyal
    NEW DELHI, FEB. 4. During a week-long stay in Athens around the middle of last month, the words "earthquake diplomacy" figured more than once in my discussions on a major issue there, Greece's relations with Turkey.
    This was a reference to the accelerated moves for rapprochement between the two countries in the midst of outpourings of sympathy and support in Greece for the victims of an earthquake in Turkey in September 1999. Little did I realise that, soon after my return, I would find these words, or something like that, in use here--in the context of India-Pakistan relations in the wake of the Gujarat calamity. The result of a cruel stroke.
    The question, often asked is whether, in the present chastened mood, New Delhi and Islamabad would tone down their animosities and persuade themselves to begin talking about their differences and resume the dialogue.
    Those attempting a reply could not shed much light: instead, at times some heat was generated. However, a promising turn is discernible after initial hiccups.
    Whatever else may or may not emerge out of it, the stalled SAARC summit is certain to be revived.
    Even before the Gujarat catastrophe, New Delhi had veered round to the view that its opposition to the meeting of the heads had served the purpose and continuation of this policy would be counter-productive.
    Now that the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, and Pakistan's military ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, had had a telephonic talk and Pakistan sent relief material for the quake victims, which was gratefully accepted, the rationale of New Delhi's stand against the holding of the summit, because it would mean the presence of an army dictator responsible for dismissal of the democratic government, did not make sense.
    The earlier context changed now. Also, one could safely count on yet another extension of the ceasefire, due to expire on February 25. It may be premature to talk of other gains but reduction in the level of militancy and the pruning of security forces in the State by India could open up new beneficial possibilities.
    The earthquake diplomacy reached this point, after following a zig-zag course and experiencing the resultant jolts. Gen. Musharraf rushed into announcing India's "rejection" of Pakistan's help, though all that New Delhi said was that it would inform Islamabad of its precise requirements. Fortunately, the misunderstanding was removed, thanks to timely exchanges at the diplomatic level.
    Earlier, the two sides appeared to take a dim view of the chances of new initiatives, as a result of the contacts in the wake of the Gujarat tragedy. Two cases would bear it out.
    At the recent meeting of the International Press Institute, the External Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, was asked by a foreign journalist whether the South Asian region would witness a parallel of the Greek-Turkey post-earthquake diplomatic moves.
    The Minister was cautious, saying experience in one area could not be transferred horizontally to another, and that rapprochement model may not be applicable here. India-Pakistan contacts had been on, he said, citing the exchange of the lists of nuclear facilities in their respective territories on January 1 (in pursuance of an agreement signed over a decade ago).
    Whether Islamabad would put an end to its compulsive hostility was the core point, according to him.
    In a CNN discussion, a London-based Pakistani journalist of the Jang made light of the conclusion of his Indian partner that the sharing of the grief and the despatch of relief supplies by Islamabad could lead to substantive bilateral moves.
    He made a distinction between sympathy for disaster victims (Indians would have helped, had, God forbid, something happened in Pakistan) and new political-level beginning. He ascribed his cynicism to deep animosity between Hindus and Muslims--when told this was not the case in secular India, he amended his formulation with a reference to animosities between Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan.
    He was not hopeful of resumption of the dialogue, saying the Indian Government would now cite its preoccupation with the aftermath of the earthquake to delay the process.
    Even in Athens, opinions differed on the significance of the sympathy factor for the bilateral dialogue. According to Foreign Ministry officials, the conciliation bid had begun months before the disaster.
    In the Federation of Greek Industries, the perspective was more positive--"Because of unfortunate circumstances, our ties with Turkey were strained. But after the earthquake, the people went ahead of politicians and offered help and sympathy." "Political limitations," it was pointed out, were major obstacles.
    But the rapprochement, "initiated recently brings about a new era of commercial and economic relations. And once economic collaboration begins, political cooperation will follow."

Kashmir Earthquake (8 October 2005)



  • From Kelman (2006) (without the footnotes and hence without the references)

             Kashmir has been an ever-present difficulty for India-Pakistan relations and regional geopolitics. The "Line of Control" through Kashmir currently serves as the de facto India-Pakistan border there. Politically-related violence occurs on both sides of the Line of Control.
             Despite Kashmir, India-Pakistan relations were continuing to warm when, on 8 October 2005, a moment magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck at a shallow depth of 26 kilometers with its epicenter 105 kilometers north-northeast of Islamabad. The disaster killed more than 70,000 people in Pakistan including some in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, more than 1,000 people in India including some in India-controlled Kashmir and several people in Afghanistan. Many states, including India, immediately offered aid to Pakistan.
             India and Pakistan then collaborated to facilitate the aid operation by lessening Line of Control restrictions. On 19 October 2005, telephone links were restored across the Line of Control to permit families to contact each other. Over nine days in November 2005, five locations along the Line of Control were opened to permit relief supplies to cross. On 19 November 2005, civilians were permitted to cross one of these checkpoints to seek missing family members. During these events, politicians, the media and the people voiced thoughts that the earthquake could, and perhaps should, signal a new era for Kashmir, in which the dispute would finally be resolved. Disaster diplomacy, perhaps, would work through Kashmir where it had failed through Gujarat.
             The earthquake disaster pushed forward the Kashmir peace process by bringing the issue back onto the world stage and by opening the Line of Control. Before attributing success to disaster diplomacy, two notes of caution are necessary. First, violence continued in India and Pakistan despite the disaster and the peace overtures. The education minister of India-controlled Kashmir was assassinated (18 October 2005), more than 60 people were killed in bomb attacks in New Delhi (29 October 2005), a fast food outlet was bombed in Karachi killing three people (15 November 2005) and a bomb damaged one of Pakistan's gas pipelines (16 February 2006). The widespread nature of the violence, some involving non-state actors which might or might not be supported by states, illustrates that regional violence is not just a result of Kashmir and is not just a result of inter-state conflict. Moreover, Kashmir has actors and pressures beyond the conflict between the Indian and Pakistani governments. Some Kashmiri separatists seek independence; China has interests in the area; and drugs are intertwined with violence. Achieving peace in Kashmir, achieving peace in India and Pakistan and achieving peace between India and Pakistan would require much more than Islamabad-New Delhi reconciliation.
             Second, the Kashmir initiatives were not a new emergence in India-Pakistan diplomacy. Instead, they represent an acceleration of an ongoing India-Pakistan peace process, including Kashmir. Four days before the earthquake, India and Pakistan had agreed to resolve within three months their dispute over troop withdrawals from Kashmir's Siachen Glacier. On 7 April 2005, a cross-Kashmir bus service had started. The post-earthquake opening of the Line of Control was important, but had precedents and by itself will not end Kashmir-related disputes.
             ...Disaster-related diplomacy and legitimate diplomacy are evident, but terming the diplomacy "new" would be a disservice to the efforts made since 2002 to reduce conflict between India and Pakistan. Whether this diplomacy lasts, or disappears as after the 2001 earthquake, remains to be seen. Nonetheless, the 2005 earthquake sped up the diplomatic process, particularly regarding Kashmir's divide. This case study supports the statement that disaster can catalyze diplomacy, but evidence does not exist that disaster can create diplomacy.

Other Sources:

  • Andrabi, T. and J. Das. 2010 (October). In Aid We Trust: Hearts and Minds and the Pakistan Earthquake of 2005. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper WPS5440, Development Research Group, Human Development and Public Services Team, The World Bank, Washington, D.C., U.S.A.

  • Basrur, R. and Y.R. Kassim. 2011 (October 18). "Pakistan, India and Kashmir: Will Nature force an Aceh Effect?" RSIS Commentaries no. 151/2011, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore.

  • Mancuso, J.D., E.O. Price, and D.F. West. 2008. "The Emerging Role of Preventive Medicine in Health Diplomacy after the 2005 Earthquake in Pakistan". Military Medicine , vol. 173, no. 2, pp. 113-118.

Floods in Pakistan (July-August 2010)
With thanks to Tawab Malekzad for material



  • By Tawab Malekzad (5 August 2012). Quotations are from BBC Coverage:

             Soon after the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India's Secret Services alleged that they discovered that the terrorists were funded and trained by the ISI of Pakistan. At this point in time, many Pakistanis and Indians believed that this alleged act by Pakistan would spark a violent and bloody war between the two countries. Fortunately, little happened; that is, India did not retaliate, although it was expected to.
             Moreover, two years later when "devastating floods in north-west Pakistan" affected "2.5m people", India offered "$5m (£3.2m) in aid" to Pakistan. The Pakistani Ambassador to the UN "welcomed the offer saying the disaster transcended any differences the two countries had." Meanwhile, India's Ambassador to the UN said, "We are willing to do all that is in our power to assist Pakistan in facing the consequences of floods. " He also added, "We extend our wholehearted support to the government of Pakistan in its efforts for relief and rehabilitation of the…population." A BBC report published on 20 August 2010 argued, "Pakistan and India have slowly been improving ties since the Mumbai militant attacks of 2008 put relations between the two nuclear-armed rivals at a new low."
             Yet relations between Pakistan and India did not improve as was hoped. The issue of Kashmir was still a concern for both sides. In September 2010, there were reports of protests in India-controlled Kashmir and India was blaming Pakistan for the uprising. Tensions between the two countries increased when India blamed Pakistan for being a safe haven for militants in the region. This claim made by India came after the assassination of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan in May 2011. The game of blaming continued when the former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf claimed that India poses an "existential threat" to Pakistan. Relations between India and Pakistan became more strained when they both continued to test nuclear-capable missiles in 2012.
             There is no doubt that the flood disaster of 2010 supported dialogue between India and Pakistan. However, this interaction did not lead to long-term peace negotiations or reconciliation. Like many other cases, this case is an example of failed disaster diplomacy. This case illustrates the possibility for two rival countries to come together for a short time, yet fail to establish a long-term amiable relationship on the basis of a disaster.

Other Source:

  • Arai, T. 2012. "Rebuilding Pakistan in the Aftermath of the Floods: Disaster Relief as Conflict Prevention". Journal of Peacebuilding & Development, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 51-65.

Other Examples

  • Field, J. and I. Kelman. 2018. "The Impact on Disaster Governance of the Intersection of Environmental Hazards, Border Conflict and Disaster Responses in Ladakh, India". International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, vol. 31, pp. 650-658.

  • Gupta, N., A. Mishra, N.K. Agrawal, and S. Satapathy. 2018. "Interstate Cooperation for Climate Change Adaptation in Indian Himalayan Region". Economic & Political Weekly, vol 13, no. 12, pp. 35-40.

  • Kelman, I., J. Field, K. Suri, and G.M. Bhat. 2018. "Disaster diplomacy in Jammu and Kashmir". International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, vol. 31, pp. 1132-1140.

  • Meier, C. and C.S.R. Murthy. 2011 (March). India's Growing Involvement in Humanitarian Assistance. GPPi Research Paper No. 13. Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi), Berlin, Germany.

  • Venugopal, R. and S. Yasir. 2017. "The politics of natural disasters in protracted conflict: the 2014 flood in Kashmir". Oxford Development Studies, vol. 45, no. 4, pp. 424-442.

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