8:52 am. October 8, 2005. The serene hills of Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa hovered over a bed of clouds. Within the next minute, more than half a million people were rendered homeless. Some survivors, hopelessly trying to cope with the devastation, were consoled by the belief that this was, rather could only be, the will of God. Others were simply paralyzed by the sheer magnitude of the devastation they had witnessed.

Time seemed stuck on 8:52 that day. News of casualties, collapsed buildings, land slides and an increasing death toll poured in from every nook in the North. As cellular links choked under the pressure, people switched to television and helplessly witnessed the horrors of the earthquake.

Almost a decade ago, the ground cracked beneath our feet that morning and shook us down to our roots. But somehow, it also brought us together. I remember then, how people joined hands to help the victims. The spirit of the relief effort was incredible. Millions required housing, schooling, medical attention and post disaster support to rebuild their lives. Between international and local aid, Pakistan, despite its meagre resources, made it possible.

Today, nearly one million people from North Waziristan are homeless. Beyond analyzing the military strategy and the purpose of Zarb-e-Azb, some pertinent questions no one seems to be asking are as follows: can we spark the enthusiasm that once possessed us, however briefly, to assist homeless victims in the aftermath of the Kashmir earthquake? Are we as a nation, guilty of not owning North Waziristan ? Why are there only a handful of aid organizations operating in the aforementioned region?

For one, the IDP human stories do not have the desirable outreach. We are perhaps trying too hard not to term the operation a failure which means news reports are either sugar coated in jingoism, half-baked-half-truths or vague accounts of victories accompanied with sterile, skin-deep photojournalism. It is no surprise then, that we lack the collective empathy for innocent civilians suffering from the operation. Surely, the enthusiasm cannot be compared to what this nation felt in October 2005. Secondly, the few glimpses of operation Zarb-e-Azb that reach us are perhaps not sensational enough for a population too acclimatized to grief, violence and poverty.

Conversely, back in 2005, the reverberations of the Kashmir earthquake were felt across the nation. This was largely so because the stories that emanated from the disaster were both numerous and reported extensively. In my own house, Muhammad Khan, our house help, was on leave with his family in Balakot at the time of the earthquake. Khan survived but his home was swallowed by the ground and his wife was buried alive with it. Once the ground stood still, Khan collected himself and embarked upon the horrific task of rejoining the shattered, strewn limbs of his young son, in the hope that this would bring him back to life. “Everything will be fine,” he reassured himself. But his words were vastly distant from the truth. Nothing was fine. And we did what we could to help; there was not a moment of indifference or inaction. Khan was one of us. These people were our own.

I am afraid I cannot say the same about the relief effort in North Waziristan .

It is said that a tragedy on a massive scale can bring out the best and worst in man. Regrettably, as the bard said, “the evil that men do lives after them, whereas the good is oft interred with their bones.” Still, it is interesting to see how man-made disasters and unexpected natural disasters evoke such distinct relief efforts – it’s almost as though the people of North Waziristan are from another planet; aliens with alien lives and alien concerns in an alien cocoon from a novel no-one wishes to read.

In Kashmir, stories of courage soon lost potency against the backdrop of profiteers, opportunists and petty criminals. Prices of coffin palls and truck rentals soared to unimaginable prices until the government intervened and imposed price ceilings. Personal belongings, including the clothes of the dead, were looted. Old scores and family feuds were settled with heinous murders and relief goods were stacked by a cunning few and then sold to earthquake survivors.

Similarly in Bannu, families have been abridged as a direct consequence of the great distances they’ve had to travel on foot with barely any resources and in many cases with fragile infants. In camps, where registration is slow and arduous, and where hunger often leads to unrest, two men were recently killed for creating a ruckus. What the refugees need is care. Not guns.

11 ration points have been established across Bannu but more are needed to avoid unwanted disputes. Our indifference to IDPs will cost Pakistan more lives. As for the politics of Zarb-e-Azb, perhaps we can return to discussing it once the refugees are fully secure. In what most have termed an enormous humanitarian disaster, perhaps the time has come to deal with some humanity.

 The writer is a communications consultant based in Lahore.

Khizr.imran@gmail.com