girl in a Kashmir hospital after the quake. Below: Waiting for
Hand Account of Devastated Balakot
October 15: If you ever want to see a Government failing, and
in fact, want to see a collapsed state, then visit Balakot, which
is two and a half hours drive from Abbotabad.
going to Balakot, I was expecting immense activity there, with
hundreds of relief camps and people removing rubble to recover
the living and removing the bodies. I was dismayed by the relief
is absolutely nothing by the name of Government in Balakot; it
is total anarchy with everybody fending for themselves. There
is no electricity; no water supply; no telecommunication connection
with the outside world; no sewerage system as there is no structure
existing; roads are cluttered with debris; bodies are decomposing
in almost every home and shop; expensive items are lying in shops
and no one is interested in them except that all food items have
been taken away; vehicles including trucks are lying on sides;
children's bodies are decaying in all schools; there is a pungent
bodies' smell in the whole area and one starts smelling of it
after a few hours; there is no medical facility in the whole area;
not a single shop is open; God knows where the police is; all
Government offices are destroyed; and locals are stunned, with
hardly a single family remaining unaffected and all living and
sleeping out in the open, with nothing to cook and no utensils,
no bedding and no clothing.
listen to the concerned authorities and it seems that relief could
not have been better, and they are in total control of the situation.
Probably they are because the soldiers for some bizarre reason
can only be seen carrying their heavy guns even in a place like
Margalla Towers in Islamabad. How can they work when they are
carrying these guns? And what are they carrying them for?
reached Balakot on October 10, just 48 hours after the earthquake.
The road had just opened as it was closed after land-slides at
two places; incidentally, it was a minor slide and it should not
have taken two days to re-open the road. There was a lot of traffic
and so I went from the Garhi Habibullah road to Balakot; it must
have been a good road at one point of time but now the road has
vanished from a couple of places, and vehicles have problems at
first stop in Balakot was at Shaheen Memorial School where 400
children were said to be buried. Volunteers from Abbotabad. had
rescued four children slightly earlier and now a French Rescue
team, led by the French Embassy Defence Attache, was starting
its operations. I remained with them till midnight. It goes without
saying that their professionalism and attitude was phenomenal;
they never panicked. When the first child was pulled out in front
of me, I felt electrified. The Defence Attache had told me to
tell the crowd not to raise any slogans as the child would be
in trauma but even I could not help shouting `Ali' once he was
pulled out from the hole that was once the ground floor but was
now crushed by the upper two storeys. And this five-year old was
funny. The first thing he asked for once out was Tang. Two rescues
dozens of folk started offering their prayers on that very roof
under which 400 children were buried, preceded by loud Azaan;
it was Iftari time. The French asked me if they could continue
with the drilling during azaan and namaz, I asked them to please
continue. Every minute was precious for the kids trapped underneath
us. And then the French discovered two kids and I noticed a strange
thing lying over them. It turned out to be the body of their teacher
Kinza; it took almost took two hours to widen the concrete hole
and break the door lying over Kinza to recover the boy. I kept
talking to the boy while he was stuck. Kinza's body had to be
removed first and it was stinking so bad that even the French
without any masks could not help clearing their throats: and the
child Arif was lying under her was for more than two and half
days. He was dazed but was talking and threw up when given juice;
he was severely bruised.
French told me that Kinza had saved the child's life by covering
him and another child with her body. The other child had died
by the time we recovered him. The French without eating anything
and a short break brought their sniffing dogs to look for another
spot to drill. I left as it was getting past midnight. The next
day, I heard that they had discovered many more children and left
at four in the morning confirming that there were no longer any
more children who were alive. They had come straight from France
and hardly talked with each other or commented on anything or
ever complained; it was straight to work.
the hundreds surrounding them could not help wondering that why
folks from across the globe had to come to save their children
when the army jawans were camped right across the river in hundreds.
I did not see any police but saw one guy walking past the collapsed
school top and asked him to help me carry a child's body; he just
stared at me, without saying a word and kept walking.
myself experienced the earthquake in Islamabad; I have not moved
out of the room during such quakes in the past. I kept in the
room even with this one until there was a big jolt after a few
seconds of tremors and shouted to everybody at home to run out.
It was probably that big jolt that destroyed everything in Balakot.
The Shaheen School was a three-storey school built with the donation
of a guy based in Qatar; beats me why schools of more than one
storey were ever allowed to be constructed in a quake prone area.
The children were recovered from the ground floor; and the top
floors had crashed on them. You see a floor next to the road and
it turns out that there are two floors under it, they have gone
into the ground. Locals say that the earth moved up and down in
strange ways in the whole town.
local Hanif told me that he ran out of the shop after the initial
tremors and then there was dust in the air. When the dust settled,
there was total devastation and hardly a structure standing in
the whole town. The sole Tehsil Hospital in town gone; not a single
house in the town survived; 95 per cent of the shops gone; Qasim
Shah's major five storey hotel gone into the Kunar river; a major
thickly populated neighborhood was located on a hill-top and there
were no survivors; the police station survived; PTDC Hotel partly
survived; a major shopping plaza owned by a group of Tablighi
Jamaat workers is the only imposing structure that has survived;
Syed Ahmad Shaheed's grave has survived but structures around
it have been demolished; Ismail Shaheed's mazaar has
partly been destroyed; all schools have been destroyed and two
telephone towers perhaps belonging to mobile companies have survived.
locals said that there were cries for help immediately after the
quake from all quarters and up to 70 per cent could have been
saved if the troops had arrived the same day. I said that how
could they when roads were blocked. They said that they could
have parachuted them or sent them by helicopters. The first chopper
hovered over the town within six hours of the quake for inspection
but did not land. The pity is not this alone. Tragedy is that
nothing is being done by the Governmental quarters even at this
only ray of hope is with the people of Pakistan. Their spirit
to help their compatriots in distress is touching. There is constant
flow of aid pouring into Balakot but it is all being sent by individuals
or the corporate sector and nothing is being organized by the
Government. And as it is all individual, it is disorganized. The
whole town is flooded with second hand clothing and it is lying
all over on the roads in dirt and soaked by rains. Many are bringing
in so-called juice, mineral water and biscuits; and some bringing
in other stuff.
crucial stuff right now are tents as people are living out in
the open and it becomes cold at night. They need cooking stoves,
oil, flour, vegetables, tea, and of course doctors with medicines.
The injured need to be immunized against tetanus and few have
undergone that. There are no antibiotics. We all need to pitch
in and do whatever we can do to alleviate the suffering and help
our brothers and sisters (who are not seen anywhere and thus unheard
of) and children (who have no voice).
is a Persian saying that "This will also pass". So this
horrible period in the lives of these people will also pass. But
it will never be the same. How can it be when you have lost your
son, daughter, husband, wife, father, mother, brother, sister,
friends, or neighbors? Your home is destroyed and business is
lost. But it will pass. And people will remember how the State,
the Government and all of us have treated them and the consequence
can be extremely nasty for the State of Pakistan.
writer is an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan who visited
Balakot on October 10 with a French Rescue Team. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org