to be a Pakistani
the eye of storm
By Salman Rashid
In September 2009, the people of the village of Attabad approached the Gilgit district administration with word of the rumbling noises emanating from the hillside above their village. The following month, a team from the Geological Survey of Pakistan visited and reported that there was a potential threat of a major landslip in the unstable hillside.
The district administration moved the population of Attabad to the neighbouring village of Sarat some four kilometres upstream along the river. Fatalists believe the exact time of death is foreordained and inescapable. And so, when the landslide of January 4, 2010 occurred, while it erased the village of Attabad, it also took the lives of thirteen of its inhabitants then living in Sarat. That is now history.
This was a catastrophe. It was deliberately turned into a disaster by the mindless policies of those who feign to be managing disasters in the country. To begin with, a massive quantum of food and other aid worth Rs37.5 million forwarded by China immediately following the landslide was refused by the chief of National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). The pretext was that accepting the humanitarian aid would show Pakistan in poor light.
However, subsequently when the lake began to expand upstream of the landslide cutting off road connection of Gojal (Upper Hunza) with the rest of the country, the Gilgit-Baltistan government was constrained to purchase food from China which was still connected by road with Gojal — and is to this day. Because of the disparity between Chinese prices and ours, this supply had to be heavily subsidised by the government in order to make it affordable for affected communities.
Meanwhile, the Chinese now came up with an offer to breach the artificial dam. After the Wenchuan earthquake of May 2008, China was faced with not one but some two hundred landslip dams. One of these was similar in size to the Attabad dam. Going after it with everything they had, the Chinese had opened up the dam preventing a lake from forming. Once again, the NDMA chief refused. He reportedly insisted that Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) was capable of draining the lake.
About eight weeks after the landslide, World Food Programme (WFP) asked the G-B government for an estimate of aid required. Sensing the gravity of the situation, an officer of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority forwarded the required estimate. But before any aid could arrive, the officer was forced to withdraw this petition and was served with an explanation for stepping out of line. It is alleged that the chief of NDMA was once again behind this refusal for food assistance.
Meanwhile, within days of the landslide, scores of ‘experts’ of all manner descended upon the stricken area. The only equipment they came with was a surfeit of expendable hot air. Among these, the most flatulent was a man called David Petley, a professor from the University of Durham. This man single-handedly created the disaster scenario of the dam breaking under pressure from the lake. In such a case, we were told — and are still being told — a wall of water no less than a hundred metres high would go racing down the Hunza and Indus river gorges obliterating everything in its path. The damage we were threatened with was to extend all the way to the seaboard!
Interestingly, in the meeting held in the G-B secretariat where this so-called expert showered the gathering with his ‘wisdom’ there was in attendance one Brigadier Nasrullah Abeer. Following the 2005 earthquake and formation of the Hattian Bala landslip dam in Kashmir, this man had been sent abroad to study dam break mechanics. One participant of the meeting reports Abeer wondering aloud if the mass blocking the river wasn’t a trifle too large for the lake to burst.
It seems that in the shadow of the so-called foreign ‘expert,’ Abeer was unsure of his own competence. Here he was with only a few weeks of training in dam break studies confronted with a man who pretended to know everything and was a professor to boot. The brigadier remained silent instead of telling Petley he did not know his elbow from his behind.
Petley’s proclamation became open season for the various television channels that thrive on sensationalism. Reporters of these networks, mostly semi-educated and always ill-informed (particularly in matters scientific and mechanical) attacked Gilgit with their cameras to spew forth the same foolishness aired by Petley. It is of interest that one heroic reporter donned his life jacket, stood on the terrace of Hotel Canopy Nexus in Gilgit town with Ghizer River in the background to tell worldwide viewers of how he was endangering his own life to bring them news of the impending disaster.
Viewers, as well as the man’s bosses, had no way of knowing that this charlatan was at least a hundred kilometres from the landslide dam and on the wrong river. But he was not alone. Every single news channel followed suit.
The so-called experts, both foreign and local, did not carry out any scientific assessment. An official of the Gilgit district administration says that no laser testing was done to ascertain the nature of the material blocking the Hunza River. Indeed, while all television networks concentrated on images of the lake, boats going to and fro, and weeping women or worried men, not one showed viewers the extent of the blockage in the river. Consequently, viewers were led to believe that as soon as there was sufficient water pressure behind the dam, the lake would burst.
Meanwhile, FWO began work on the trench (termed ‘spillway’ by the vernacular press) on January 29. This trench was to be twenty-four metres deep and forty-five metres wide. The world has busily been telling us to ‘do more’ in terms of our part in the war on terror. Would that, someone had exhorted FWO to do more in this matter as well. This trench was simply not deep enough to drain the lake. If anything, this was a paltry effort. That having been said, this tiny attempt may be attributable to the fact that everyone believed the dam was presently going to be swept away by water pressure.
While this was in progress, the chief of NDMA visited Shimshal (besides other places in Gojal). Here he told a gathering of worried people that this landslide and resultant lake was no disaster; that his organisation had handled bigger disasters in Kashmir. The bigger calamity presumably being the 2005 earthquake. Even as these brave, albeit empty, proclamations were being sounded, people of the village of Ayeenabad, the first to go under the expanding lake, were helplessly watching their homes, barley fields and orchards disappear under water. The turn of Shishkat, a breathtakingly picturesque village straddling the Hunza River, came next. Shishkat whose good people, when they found you picking apricots from their trees, guided you to the best and sweetest one and neither frowned nor demanded payment when you filled five or ten kilogramme bags with their fruit. Gulmit followed close behind and which at the time of this writing is partially submerged.
One wonders how many people in Pakistan have ever thought of those hapless homeowners who had watched their hundred year-old homes slowly being overcome by the rising waters. One wonders, too, if anyone felt the magnitude of their anguish at the loss of their whole world. Or if anyone thought of their impotent anger at nature and more at disaster managers who had singularly failed to counteract or mitigate the catastrophe.
About the middle of May, when the water finally over-topped the draining ditch (or the media’s spillway) it was realised that the effort had indeed not been enough. The scenario that Petley and others had built up of the dam eroding in a puff when the water over-topped the outlet did not take place. But there was no official admission of falling short. No word of apology to the people who suffered. Instead, NDMA now initiated a programme of controlled blasting.
When this also did not produce any results, laser testing of the dam was undertaken in mid-June. It was discovered that rocks below the surface had become anchored fast. This cementing was achieved by the seepage of water from the top when spring thaws began followed by rains. It is marvellous that David Petley was invited to this country at some huge expense so that he could fail to foresee all this. Men like Abeer are guilty of knowing better and not letting out the truth. Had the reality been known, there is an outside chance that NDMA and FWO may have gone for a larger ditch to prevent the build up of such a large lake.
Now, as for the so-called expertise of those retards who told us that the minute the lake filled up, the dam would burst. One look at the aggregate blocking the Hunza River was enough to convince me, a layperson, that nothing of the sort was ever likely to happen. The dam is eight hundred metres long, five hundred metres wide and sitting clear across the gorge of the river and ninety-six metres high. Such a mass would contain hundreds of millions of cubic metres of aggregate. This was no ordinary sand dune blocking a river, it was a veritable earth-filled dam and there was just no way water pressure was going to erode it.
Anyone with an iota of gumption who saw the blockage would have known all along that there was never going to be an outburst. And damn the ‘experts’ who thought otherwise.
As no media-person commented on the size of the dam, none also took notice of the people affected by the Attabad calamity. Depending largely on tourism, potato and fruit farming, the livelihoods of no fewer than fifty thousand people have been jeopardised. From Gilgit all the way to Sost, business is down. In July in Shimshal I was told that I was the fourth tourist to enter the valley, which was crowded with foreigners the year before. In Gulmit and Passu, scores of potato farmers knew that their harvest was doomed because they could not get it out to the market in Gilgit. In Gilgit, shopkeepers told me that they had no camping food because there were no tourists in the area.
Fifty thousand families have to tighten their belts for the coming years in Gilgit, Hunza and Gojal. And there is an unestimated number of children whose schooling has been brought to an end. All this because our administrators heeding the advice of ‘experts’ who couldn’t tell a sand dune from a cow pat failed to open up the landslide to drain the lake.
The article "Expanding agenda" carried on these pages last week was written by Amir Mir. The omission of byline is regretted.
Islamists, otherwise castigated and even banned for their extreme views, are openly carrying out relief operations
By Waqar Gillani
The recent wave of floods in Pakistan has provided another opportunity to the defunct Jamaatud Daawa (JuD) to showcase its reputation as a welfare organisation. Though Jamaat-e-Islami and other religious parties like Minhajul Quran of Tahirul Qadri are also seen doing relief work, but the JuD is on the forefront.
Despite being banned by the United Nations and its assets apparently under the control of Punjab government, the JuD is actively engaged in the southern Punjab’s flood-hit zones including Mianwali, Khushab, Layyah, Rajanpur etc. "We have also camps in Nowshera, Swat, Mardan, Gilgit, and Pakistani Kashmir," says Yahya Mujahid, spokesperson for the defunct JuD.
JuD has set up more than 10 camps in Nowshera and Charsadda with the central camp in the area of Khandar Qila equipped with medicines, cooked food, ambulances etc. "More than two hundreds people eat cooked food at one time in this camps," says Muhammad Sajjad, an observer who recently visited these areas. "They are trying to win the hearts of people," he says, adding, "Their main supply of food comes from Punjab." Another major group carrying out relief operations is Al-Khidmat Foundation, the relief wing of Jamaat-e-Islami. They have a strong base in the area, adds Sajjad. "I am happy to come to this camp because they are more organised and provides proper relief," says Muhammad Imran, a 17-year-old student in a Nowshera camp.
The JuD started operating with the name of Tanzeeme Falah-e-Insaniyat (an organisation for the welfare of humanity) from 2008 when it was banned by the UN Security Council. Since then, it is operating with the name of TFI.
They claim to have evacuated hundreds of people in the flood affected Mianwali when no one from the government was there. They have a seminary and a mosque in this area too. They claim to be providing one month’s cooked food to 1200 houses in Esa Khel tehsil.
The story of JuD’s relief activities is not new. The organisation earned widespread appreciation for its massive relief operation during the 2005’s devastating earthquake in Pakistan. The JuD was also seen actively helping the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) during the mass exodus in the wake of Pakistani forces’ operation against Taliban in Swat. It was fully functional in the last earthquake that hit many parts of Balochistan and Kashmir.
"We don’t have a particular agenda in helping people. This is the true spirit of Islam to work for humanity and we don’t expect any reward from them," says Ataur Rehman, JuD’s Punjab chief of relief operations. "You see nobody raises the question of any ban at difficult times. People just want help at that need of hour and that’s it. The people in these areas suffering from miseries hardly have any second thought about us. We are also giving relief goods, cooked food, ration, clothes to the affected people through eight relief and medical camps equipped with volunteers and two ambulances in Layyah."
"We don’t know about JuD, but we appreciate those who come to help us when the state does not respond," says Muhammad Altaf, a 35-year-old labourer who was rescued by TFI in Layyah. "For us, they have more acceptance as a relief organisation and especially when they rapidly respond."
Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah has recently seconded this view saying publicly that they cannot ban relief work by an organisation and cannot stop any person from doing humanitarian work. "It seems they are following the pattern of Hizbullah in Lebanon by simultaneously running their relief and militant wing," comments Hasan Askari, an independent political analyst. "This is also to create goodwill for themselves and gain sympathies and strength for their fighting group. There is no law to stop volunteers from doing humanitarian work. They are doing work like any other humanitarian organisation." Askari also adds that despite the JuD’s hard work in earthquake-hit areas, there is no credible evidence yet whether they have increased their fighting force.
"People repose their confidence in us by donating money. Thousands of people are getting free food through JuD in the flood-hit areas where we have 13 major camps, nine medical teams and 39 ambulances," adds Mujahid. "We don’t have any fighting wing and this is the relief work of JuD which has made it popular," he says, maintaining that JuD is not a banned group in Pakistan. "Pakistan’s free courts have also said that there is no proof against JuD and its chief and also there is no notification by the Pakistani government banning our activities."
As the flood is increasing across Pakistan, the TFI camps have also started expanding. JuD chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, in a recent public statement and last Friday sermon in Lahore, has urged philanthropists to support JuD in relief and rehabilitation work in the flood-affected zones. "The nation needs to stand up and help the flood victims through donations and relief work."
By Amir Zia
Many things which should have been straight and easy appear too difficult and complicated in Pakistan — even collecting insurance claims of victims of an air-crash by their families. More than two weeks after an Airbus 321 of Airblue crashed into Margalla Hills, the compensation claims of its 152 victims, including six crew members, remain a knotty problem. How much compensation will be paid per victim? When the family members of these victims get this money? These are the two important questions, which neither the government nor the Airblue authorities are ready to clarify — at least for the time being.
"It is a very complicated and sensitive issue, involving different laws," Air Blue’s General Manager Raheel Ahmed told TNS. "I am afraid right now nobody can give the exact amount of compensation or the date when its distribution will start."
Airblue got the Airbus on operating lease from the International Lease Finance Corporation, which provided an insurance cover of $35 million on its aircraft.
As the state authorities, insurance agents and airlines officials struggle and haggle to determine the compensation, victims’ families have nothing else but days of agonizing wait ahead of them. While many victims belonged to well-to-do families, others were the sole bread earners and their family members remain in the need of an immediate financial assistance.
Legal experts say that Pakistan’s laws regarding the payment of compensation to families of air crash victims were contradictory, allowing different interpretations.
Yahya Adeel, a top lawyer of international and local aviation law, said that at least three different sets of laws exist which apply to the air crash victims. "These laws not just overlap, but contradict one another."
Airblue’s management also says that compensation needs to be decided keeping in view the law of the land, the local civil aviation law as well as the international law. "It is indeed a touchy subject. But on our part, there will be every effort to maximise the insurance," Airblue’s Ahmed said. The national Carriage by Air Act, introduced in 1934 in British India in line with the 1929 Warsaw Convention and adopted by Pakistan after independence, calls for 125,000 Francs payment per victim. The Hague protocol of 1955 doubled the amount to 250,000 Francs, which does not include what airlines’ has to pay for the lost baggage. Adeel said that this protocol was inserted into the Pakistani law, which fixed it as the minimum compensation regardless of the cause of the accident.
This compensation needs to be given immediately. However, experts say that this minimum payment would not override any court verdict regarding an increase in this amount. The law also allows victims’ families to demand higher compensation if the accident is the result of human or technical error.
Pakistan is also a signatory to the 1999 Montreal Convention, which says each family of a victim to get 100,000 Francs special drawing rights in damages. Some experts say that this applies only on international flights, but the local law does not discriminate on this basis. Provisions of Montreal Convention have been incorporated in the Carriage by Air Act 2010, which now needs a seal of approval from the Parliament.
However, the complication in these laws stems from a controversial amendment introduced in the past which says that for domestic flights, the Ministry of Defense can notify and reduce the compensation. Another government SRO (Self Regulatory Organisation) fixes the amount of compensation at 500,000 rupees for domestic passengers.
Experts see it in violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed in the constitution, which sees all citizens as equal, while the international aviation laws also do not discriminate between international and domestic flight passengers. But while the aviation laws remain subject to debate, Airblue’s management has hinted that along with the law, insurers would also take into account the precedence, by which they mean that the compensation paid in the past to families of an air crash victims. Airblue mentions on the jacket of its ticket that domestic passengers are covered to the tune of one million rupees.
The 2006 crash of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Fokker in Multan is taken as a prime example in which a compensation of two million rupees was paid per victim.
Junaid Ameen, Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority, said payment of compensation remains the responsibility of airlines through its insurance agents. The amount of compensation varies from country to country and an exact number cannot be given now, he said.
The international conventions, to which Pakistan is a signatory, only provides guidelines and are not mandatory, Ameen said. "There are many intricacies involved in determining the compensation and insurers can take several more weeks before starting the actual distribution of money."
But apart from fixing the compensation amount, another challenge the Airblue faces is that of registering and verifying the next-of-kin of each victim. Ahmed of Airblue said that already more than 200 people got themselves registered as the next-of-kin of 152 passengers, while some bodies still remain unidentified. "In some cases there are disputes over who is the actual heir. We have a case where a man had two wives, then there is another in which wife and father of a victim filed separate claims. There are many such disputed cases." While the Airblue has almost completed the registration process, the real challenge of verifying the relatives still needs to be resolved and could take time, he said.
Given the slow pace at which the Airblue, its insurance companies and the government are moving on the issue of compensation, it seems a long wait for the family members of the victims, who only have questions and not many answers about the future. The laws and the system, instead of helping these families, seem to be used to delay and deny them a fair compensation in line with the international air travel conventions and laws.
You might find the treasures right here, that you may have trotted the globe in search of
By Masud Alam
I met a South African punter in London who was betting on Pakistan in a cricket match against England.
"You are the first South African fan of our cricket I have the honour to meet." I gushed. "I am not a fan," he was quick to clarify. "It’s my favourite team to bet on. You see it’s the most unpredictable team in the world of cricket. It can win against giants as nonchalantly as it can lose to minnows. This quality keeps the odds high in favour of Pakistan. So if Pakistan loses I only part with £10, and if it wins I get a hundred. I have made a lot of money on Pakistan."
I love cricket but never got the hang of betting. I didn’t understand the punter’s logic of making money on a team as maverick as Pakistan cricket, but I got to use the analogy to good effect. During an interview I was asked if Pakistan is a failed state - - - yet? Loaded questions like this usually elicit one of the two responses: vigorous defence or wordy but evasive explanation that explains nothing.
On this occasion, however, the South African punter’s words rang in my ears and borrowing from his sporting philosophy, I made the point that Pakistan is as unpredictable as its people. It is equally capable of heroics and absurd capitulation and no one can say with surety which way will it go in a particular situation. Its strength is as deceptive as its weakness. It’ll be a folly to expect Pakistan to develop overnight into a regional power, and so is writing it off as a failed state.
I was so persuasive that I have since started believing in, owning, and expanding the argument. And I am happy to report that good things have come out of this reality adjustment. The trick is to remove whatever spectacles we routinely wear and see our surroundings with the eyes of a stranger, an outsider. You might find the treasures right here, that you may have trotted the globe in search of.
Take freedom. Only after living in the benign dictatorships of the Persian Gulf and the law-obsessed North America, have I begun to appreciate the absolute freedom available to every citizen of Pakistan. You are free to move — with or against the flow — or stop in the middle of road, or jaywalk. You are free to say absolutely anything, anywhere at all and not just in a designated corner of a park, as in London. And you are free to believe in whatever takes your fancy. No controls here — governmental or societal. You could bad mouth your country, your faith, and your rulers in public and get sniggers in response. Try doing that in the US and your flag-waving, bible-reciting neighbours will be the first to maul you. Law of the land will come next.
Also unlike the US, where citizens are given the right to seek happiness but when they go seeking, they are pushed around by beefy bouncers or pushed back by laws and bylaws, Pakistanis are free to pursue any activity that pleases them. This freedom brings about the diversity of what is perceived as entertainment, and the best part is: it is mostly cheap entertainment. Like, you may enjoy nose-picking while driving; the man crossing the road in front of you prefers pinching the buttocks of the woman walking next to him; and the police sergeant standing in the middle is in ecstasy scratching his privates. Whatever makes them happy.
We are a spoiled lot. No wonder you can’t take Pakistan out of an expatriate Pakistani. It’s the freedoms we are used to, and do not get anywhere else in the world, that make us yearn to come back. The world can have its Seven Wonders, bullet trains and fine wines, I am happy to keep my freedom to break wind when and where I must.
Floodwaters thundering past large swathes in
Punjab, Sindh and KP, leave people wailing over the losses of life and property
By Waqar Gillani
Mazhar Ali, 23, a student in a local college, had repeatedly been traveling from Mehmood Kot to Kot Addu on Pakistan Army’s trucks in search of his father who was left in the inundated town of district Muzaffargarh last week. "Our whole family has left Kot Addu, but my father was not willing to leave. Now we are worried about him as the water level is rising day by day," he tells TNS. Mazhar has been taking risks of repeated visits through raging waters to the area to locate his father.
The family is one of those tens of thousands displaced people who are wading through flood waters to find a safe dry land. Exceptionally high floods have displaced millions in Southern Punjab, interior Sindh, various cities of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and parts of Balochistan. A large portion of Azad Kashmir is also affected due to flood in the River Neelum.
It is painful to see dozens and dozens of villages vanishing under water and tens of thousands of people evacuating in the most devastating flood in the country’s history. The large scale displacement of flood victims reminds one of mass exodus during Indo-Pak partition. Tens of thousands of people from various parts of district Muzaffargarh left their villages and towns to raging flood waters.
The situation in Rajanpur, Dera Ghazi Khan and Muzaffargarh is the worst as water level in rivers, mainly the mighty Indus, is rising. "The water level in the district’s main canal passing through the main city is alarmingly increasing. Precautionary measures are in place and people have been told to leave the city," says Farasat Iqbal, the district administrator.
"The situation is uncontrollable. The overflow of water in the Indus has caused a half kilometre long and 70 to 80 feet deep breach in the river bank near Taunsa that has turned the flow of the water towards Kot Addu further affecting dozens of villages and Muzaffargarh city, more than 40-kilometre away from the breach," says Suhail Tippu, a Punjab government official monitoring the situation at the spot. "The city canal is already flooding because of River Chenab overflow, forcing the administration to evacuate this city sandwiched between the two rivers."
There are chaotic scenes of people, including old men, women and children, leaving their homes on trolleys, donkey carts, cattle and even on foot on Multan Road. "We don’t know where we are going. We have left everything and saved our children," says Ghulam Mustafa, an evacuated resident of Mehmood Kot, who is searching for a shelter along with his eight family members in Multan. "The government camps are already overcrowded and we don’t know when these miseries will come to an end," says barefooted Ghulam Mustafa while walking on main Multan Road. He had planned to go to Khanewal if he could not get help in Multan. The roads in affected areas are littered with the dead cattle.
Hill torrents are continuously hitting the inundated cities and towns of Rajanpur, the far district of Punjab. "People are being rescued through boats and copters by the army. A couple of days ago, 38 people riding an overloaded boat drowned in Jampur. Seven have been saved, one is dead and 30 are still missing," says Samiullah, shift in-charge of rescue 1122 control room.
"Dera Ghazi Khan is cut off from the rest of Punjab near Ghazi Ghat," says Tariq Abbasi, incharge flood control room of the district. Prices of fruit and vegetables have gone up as hundreds of trucks are trapped in flood waters. "Initial estimates show more than 3,000 villages and 1.83 million people are affected in Punjab," says the Relief and Crisis Management Department’s director operations, Mian Muhammad Akram.
"There are still many areas where we are unable to reach. At the moment only rescue efforts are underway. More than 2.5 million acre of land, including over 1.5 million acre cropped area, is affected in the flood-hit zone of Punjab."
"We have to make a new Pakistan indeed," says a local resident Khalid Tanveer, while talking to TNS. "The whole infrastructure including houses, roads, government offices, schools, hospitals has been destroyed totally in this devastating flood."
The flood may also cause serious food scarcity and energy crisis. Water and Power Development Authority’s two important power generation plants are almost closed in Muzaffargarh after being hit by flood. The Sui Northern Gas Pipeline has disconnected supply of gas to more than 7,000 industrial units in Punjab and KP after the Qadirpur and Kandh Kot gas fields were hit by floods in Punjab and Sindh.
"We are trying to secure important installations. Kot Addu power plant is saved, though water is touching its boundary wall. However, water has entered the courtyard of Pak Generation Company power house, Pak Arab Oil Refinery Company and Pakistan Soling Oil Depot in Muzaffargarh," says Major Farooq Feroz of Inter-Services Public Relations. "But, these installations are safe."
The Punjab and Sindh government authorities say they had to breach many canals and banks to decrease the pressure of water and save important installations.