Militants are heroes in the village that was buried alive

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The Independent Online

Just north of Muzaffarabad lies the village that was buried alive. In Saturday's earthquake, the mountainside that half of Danimay Sahib was built on gave way in an immense landslide. All that is left is a great pale gash in the hillside. They say 1,000 people died here.

For the survivors, the only way out is a perilous journey across the swollen rapids of the river on a makeshift boat made from the inner tube of a truck tyre. The injured are steadied by volunteers, while another rows across with a single oar. The "boat" spins and threatens to capsize.

The road to the village was cut by landslides. Even the journey to the river's edge is difficult, across the mud and rubble of the landslide. This is also the only way in for food, medicine, blankets and tents for the survivors.

On the other side of the river lies the village of Chalabandi, also destroyed, and a road decorated with huge cracks, just drivable. It leads to the landing pad for helicopters that ferry the wounded to hospital.

The men who operate the ferry service are young, with long Islamic beards. They are the militants of Lashkar-e Toiba, listed as a "terrorist" group in the West and officially banned by the Pakistani government under Western pressure. They have come here from the same madrassa outside Lahore that attracted attention in July, after it emerged that one of the 7/7 London bombers had visited it.

But to the desperate people here, the militants of Lashkar-e Toiba are heroes. "The government has done nothing for us," says Said Zurkanian, a resident of Chalabandi.

"Only Lashkar has helped us. People died of hunger over there; there was no food for the injured. There are 200 people over there who are urgent need of medical help. If they do not get it they will die. Lashkar is taking it to them."

The militants' relief operation is impressively well organised. They have brought their own doctors who have been taken across the river to tend the wounded. The militants take it in turns to work one-hour shifts in teams of eight, ferrying supplies across to Danimay Sahib and bringing out the seriously wounded. "We came here to help our fellow human beings," says one of the Lashkar men, who gives his name only as Babur. He says 500 young men were sent here from the Markaz-e Dawa madrassa outside Lahore, run by Lashkar-e Toiba and known as a recruiting ground for militants.

Lashkar smuggles militants across the ceasefire line to mount attacks inside Indian-administered Kashmir. India accused the group of being behind an attack on the Indian parliament in 2002 that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of nuclear war.

But in the ravaged villages of Kashmir, Lashkar is winning hearts and minds as quickly as the Pakistani government is losing them. Rage is spilling over at the government's failure to get help here more quickly.

Habib ur-Rehman climbed over the crest of the mountains from his ruined village, Devlian, to get help. He points up at the crossing, dizzyingly high. It took him 10 hours. He said he would try to stay with relatives in Muzaffarabad, then set off on the return journey tomorrow with aid for his family. Three of his brothers died in the earthquake.

Volunteers are bringing aid from all over Pakistan. But many say they will not come to the area around Chalabandi, north of Muzaffarabad, for fear of looters.

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