Whether or not the government has been able to take care of the people affected by Attabad landslide disaster is a hot topic, as the people of Hunza Valley commemorate the second anniversary of the disaster, on January 4.
Government officials and political leaders close to the ruling party argue that they have done everything in their capacity and authority to help the people affected by the damming of Hunza River and the landslide disaster.
An official told Pamir Times that nowhere else in Pakistan have disaster affected people been compensated as generously as in the case of Hunza Valley. He said that on average the affected families have received cash and relief items worth around 1 million rupees, each. “600,000 rupees have been paid to the families who lost their houses, in addition to 100,000 paid separately by the Bait-al-Maal”, he argued. He also said that the government has continuously made efforts to ensure arrival of relief items from China for the entire population of Gojal valley and the affectees of Attabad.
He further mentioned the 2 Crore rupees paid by the Education Ministry in terms of scholarship and financial assistance to schools and affected students.
Those who think the government has done enough for the people also argue that a flood of relief items reached the region offered by NGOs and not a single soul was left hungry for even one day, despite of a mammoth disaster.
“People are criticizing us for flooding Gojal with relief”, a high-ranking government official told Pamir Times. “If the government had not brought the relief items, these same people would be blaming us for not doing anything and leaving the people at the mercy of hunger”, he said.
On the contrary, the activists and opposition political workers maintain that relief is never their top priority. “We are not dying for relief” an activist of Rabta Committee Mutasreen-e-Gojal (RMCG) told PT. “From day one we have been demanding drainage of the dammed river to ensure that the water starts flowing its natural course again and the dammed valley resurfaces”, he said. “The government and Frontier Works Organization have completely failed to drain the lake, despite of spending tens of millions of rupees”, he continued.
The activists also blame the government for corruption in distribution of relief items.
Another reason why the activists consider the government’s response to be a major failure is the fact that despite of tall claims, it has failed to provide health facilities to the people of Gojal.
The murder of two IDPs by police and the resultant detention of hundreds of people on charges of arson and loot has also exacerbated the situation, alienating large numbers of people, specially youth, from the government and administration.
“They were quick to arrest hundreds of the youth of Hunza but no progress has been made on providing justice to the father and son who were mercilessly murdered by police”, an activist named Jahangir said.
“The judicial inquiry report is gathering dust in the drawer of the Chief Secretary or the Chief Minister while innocent political activists are behind the bars”, comrade Barcha of PYF argued. “This is nothing short of the murder of justice”, he said.
It seems that both parties, the government and the political activists, are right on many counts. While it may not be right to call the response “unprecedented”, it is also not accurate to say that “no relief”, in terms of items and their impact, has reached the people.
There is no doubt that ample relief has been provided to the people of Gojal, Sarat and Attabad, in terms of cash, fuel and food items. Several high ranking officials have visited the region, including Prime Minister Gilani, COAS General Kayani, PMLN Chief Nawaz Sharif and several ministers and parliamentarians. If anything, these high profile visits show that there was a serious concern about the disaster at the highest level.
Why then has the lake not been drained yet and why is the strategic Karakuram Highway, important from defence point of view as well as in terms of trade, left closed for around 24 months?
Some offer technical reasons, including the inefficiency or incapacity of Frontier Works Organization (FWO) as a major reason, while others opt for more complex conspiratorial theories. Some go as far as to blame USA for pressurizing the Pakistani government and establishment, to keep China “isolated”, as part of a “containment” policy.
Others argue that petty monetary interests of bureaucrats, military personnel (mostly because of the involvement of FWO) and political leaders are behind the historically longest blockade of Karakuram Highway, the only land-route between China and Pakistan.
The announcements coming from the Aiwan-e-Saddar in Islamabad about “deals with China for opening of KKH”, don’t seem to win much support or admiration in the region. At best, the announcements are being considered as badly-crafted pacifiers and, at worst, the “conspiracy to keep us disconnected”.
It is in the strategic interest of Pakistan to drain the lake and revive trade and movement through the Karakuram Highway. More delays in this respect will lead to even greater sufferings for the affected people and traders, while also elongating the vulnerability of a strategic defence link.
That the delays and failures are fanning discontent and discord in the Hunza Valley is very obvious and it doesn’t augur well for the state, because the region is located at an international border, connected to China and Afghanistan.