Guest Post by Moneeza Ahmed
This past week, I was stuck in Yasin Valley in Gizar District (a district next to Gilgit District) for a project and I had to trek and walk by way back to Gilgit City, which took about four days. Despite the trip being extremely scary and dangerous at times, I was glad I was there as it gave me a chance to see the situation up close. The situation in Gizar was extremely dire. I saw hundreds of houses submerged in water. Animals dead, trees fallen. Most of the bridges and the roads have been completely destroyed in the area. In the moderately affected areas of gilgit district, the water ways have over filled and caused ‘selabs’ in peoples fields and homes. Tent cities have gone up in Gupis Valley in the Gizar District. There was no army or military or government presence in any of these areas. Perhaps because Swat, Charsadda, Mardan etc have been reported to the most affected of all areas.
I reached on Gilgit city on Friday last week, I was told there was an emergency plane being flown out of Gilgit to Pindi to transport stranded families. As I got to the airport, I saw a C-130 airforce plane. As people (mostly civilians) who had managed to somehow get into the airpost past the airforce officials, rushed to the plane, we were told that the plane was full and that we should wait for 2 hours for another plane which was most likely goingto show up.
Fifteeen Minutes later, I saw about 20 or so airforce officials in uniforms heading to the plane along with their families. I went up to an official who had told me that the plane was full and asked him as to how they found space for these people. I was told that they were on the list. When I enquired as to what list. I was told that this plane was called especially to transport airforce families who were stranded in gilgit back to Islamabad and that it was not for ‘civilians’. I was stunned. Could the government afford to divert a plane to transport families of airforce officials from the Government’s relief efforts for the most affected? Moreover could they just be so blatantly open about the special privllege usually given to the families of the armed forces in this country? I went up to the “higher looking official” ( i can never recognize airforce ranks from their uniforms) and asked him as to how people were selected to get onto the plane. I was told I wasnt from a state insitution or related to anyone from one and couldnt be on it. After about 5 minutes of me telling that my taxes paid for the armed forces and that i would write an editorial for Dawn about this incident, the official perhaps trying to get me off his back, let me go onto the plane. I landed at Chaklala air base 45 minutes later.
I have now been part of three emergency relief efforts in the last 5 years in Pakistan, the worse one perhaps the Oct 2005 earthquake. I have seen the army working, at times working very hard. I have also seen individual army personel going out of their way to save people’s lives, but I have also seen the army give preferential treatment to their own people, I have seen the army and the Government working in some areas while completly ignoring the others as was the case in 2005, when most of the government relief reached Balakot and Muzzafarabad District while Districts like Chakkar and various areas in Mansera which were ignored by the army and the government
I would like to humbly suggest that while one can appreciate the army’s efforts at this time, to assume that the military efforts are equitable and just and to state there that there is no preferrential treatment is naive and ignorant on anyones part.
I think we are in stage of crisis (as we seem to always be in this country), and I think that our first priority is to provide relief to the affected families, but I think its also important to be critiical of insitutions such as the army especially at a time like there, where their lack of accountability and equality can have a more severe impact on peoples’s lives.