Black Saturday Exposed the Rulers, Crowned the People

By Imtiaz Alam

LAHORE, October 13(2005): School children, as thousands of others, were crying for help from beneath the rubble, but people mourned and prayed in helplessness as they waited in vain for more than two days for any rescue operation. And the story of death, destruction, incompetence and misfortune does not end here as death toll continues to mock official understatements.


Most reports from far-flung areas invariably suggest that no one has gone to the rescue of the victims, even after 55 hours, except one or two big towns or unending aerial surveys. However, many “fortunate” buried under the debris of Margalla Tower Apartments in Islamabad were rescued, thanks to the efforts by Rapid Rescue Force sent by the UK and media focus on the capital’s privileged.

Why are people protesting? Whom should they curse? The nature? The State authorities attuned to killing, not rescuing? Or beg for forgiveness from the Almighty? Find fault with our own un-preparedness and a flawed course of “development”?

Never in the past has such a natural calamity struck Pakistan with such ferocity and at such a scale. The Black Saturday’s earthquake has brought widespread destruction, around the epicenter of the quake, in the Hazara division and Kashmir killing thousands people and destroying most infrastructure and houses leaving more than three million people homeless, according to rough estimates.

A State that failed to mobilize its over-pampered machinery to rescue its citizens in their time of distress is not, perhaps, capable to even estimate the depth and breadth of the destruction. The State machinery equipped with all kinds of weapons of mass destruction and attuned to coercion and killing could not have the heart to have ever thought of contingency plans, nor had the time to prepare in advance to meet such a contingency. (The MET Office has still not been upgraded, even after the Tsunami. Whatever up-gradation that is taking place leaves much to be desired)

Of course, it was too sudden, as all earthquakes are. But look at how clumsily the Government has responded? It has failed to undertake any rescue operation, except in Islamabad and Muzaffarabad. It was 30 hours late in making an emergency call to the international community and asking for the right equipment.

It showed its insensitivity towards the people by first declaring a relief fund of one billion rupees and, subsequently, five billion rupees with which you cannot even reconstruct Muzaffarabad and compensate its victims. The concerned citizens, and thank God in their millions, who have promptly responded, do not know how to reach out to the victims.

The Emergency Center established in the PM Secretariat or PM House has only one telephone line (Sic!). It took one day to announce a three-day national mourning. It’s better to say nothing about the government’s continuing misjudgment of the havoc. How can people bear with such a ruling lot that is so insensitive to the misery of the people. That is why people are protesting in the worst calamity hit areas which have, otherwise, always been neglected in terms of development.

Most encouraging is the response from our illustrious people, who in their thousands flocked to the areas of destruction. While the authorities in the capital were sleeping, these were the common people who with their bare hands were trying hard to do the rescue work. Almost whole rescue and rehabilitation work in the far-flung areas is being done by the people in grief.

And, by the way, where is our national leadership? Will it come into action only to politicize on the corpses of our dear ones? The State exposed its omnipotence in the time of urgency. Where did they disappear who can takeover a whole country in a matter of a few hours? It was not difficult to move, even on foot, the battalions stationed in Hathian or Abbotabad to Balakot.

Indeed, we must thank the United Kingdom, Turkey, China and Japan for their prompt response. But where was the patron of Non-Nato ally whose choppers are still awaited from next door Afghanistan? And these peanuts of 100,000 dollars speak for their ‘friendship’. When our own Government announced one/five billion rupees for relief work, the international community is not expected to throw money. Since the devastation has taken place across the LoC, one expects both India and Pakistan to create a new chapter of cooperation for the rehabilitation of the oppressed Kashmiris.

No doubt, this bloody earthquake was worst in its magnitude at a Richter scale of 7.6, which is so far the highest, in its intensity but much lower than being forecasted by international seismic agencies. The experts have long been warning of serious earthquakes in this region and forewarned of tens of times more powerful that could kill a million on the Ganges plain or southern flanks of the Himalayan, where last Saturday’s quake has struck.

Given these forecast in our region, and they can occur anytime, it is imperative that we prepare for the worst in advance. All infrastructure and private reconstruction in the probable epicenter of possible quakes will have to be undertaken while keeping this in mind. You have to have earth-moving machinery and necessary equipments that are equally good for reconstruction and evenly spread out. While the whole physical infrastructure has to be reconstructed, alternative means of transportation and communication needs to be built, such as helicopter service.

Focusing on the immediate demands of rehabilitation work, we must concentrate on the reconstruction of the whole devastated region. A major chunk of the development budget should be diverted to these areas and a master plan should be made to rebuild it. After failing to rescue our people from the rubble, we must not let negligence impede the reconstruction work. And most importantly, save the rehabilitation fund and reconstruction work from the swindlers gathered at various levels.

There is a greater need to set sound standards for the construction of infrastructure, houses and plazas. It is not enough to punish one builder, who must be. We have seen a mushroom growth of plazas that have not been built according to the safe and required standards, such dangerous buildings should be identified and brought down to avoid further human tragedy.

Lastly, one must ask, how can we reconstruct and rebuilt? Who are we — who do not have a right to elect or throw out our rulers? And, in the absence of this fundamental right, how can one ask anyone to resign for negligence? A nation which cannot make a foot-constable accountable has to suffer the unbearable.

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