Rockets were fired at a helicopter carrying the chairperson of the country’s National Disaster Management Authority and a senior Army officer.
The situation in the earthquake-affected areas of Balochistan province is turning into a humanitarian tragedy with the federal government admitting that relief and rescue teams had not yet reached some parts of the worst affected areas in Awaran and Kech districts. The toll is 356 now and over 600 injured, according to Balochistan government spokesperson Jan Muhammed Buledi.
However, there was some tension and fear in the area after two incidents, Mr. Buledi told The Hindu on the phone. As a reminder of the troubles in the region, rockets were fired on Thursday at a helicopter carrying the chairperson of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and a senior Army officer while they were conducting an aerial survey but they were not hit. Later the helicopter managed to make a safe landing at Awaran. There was another helicopter also targeted but this could not be independently confirmed. The rockets were fired possibly in the Mashkay area, where the Balochistan Liberation Front is said to have a base and is also the stronghold of a guerrilla leader.
Pakistan Minister for Interior Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in a belated statement on Thursday in the National Assembly referred to the incident but refused to name the area. He said the helicopters were fired at and it was a politically disturbed area. He said in such areas C130 Hercules military transport aircraft will be used to drop food supplies. Mr. Khan is visiting the affected region on Friday.
Military sources said that Major General Samrez Salik, General Officer Commanding (GOC) 33rd division in charge of relief operations in the earthquake, was with the NDMA chairperson and “ everybody is safe.” Again at around 3 pm, militants fired with small arms at Frontier Corps troops busy in rescue operations at Bazdad, 20 km north of Awaran. The troops did not suffer any casualties, military sources said.
The provincial government is making all out efforts to continue with rescue work despite these untoward incidents, Mr. Buledi said. He said the teams were trying to reach the furthermost areas but transportation was an issue. “We are working in a difficult situation,” he said, adding that he expects the rescue work to be completed by tonight. Many rescue teams and ambulances from the Red Cross and Edhi ambulance service, which has a large presence in Pakistan had reached the area and the injured were being treated in medical camps or shifted out. He said the government was not setting up shelters and only giving tents to people.
TV reported people were digging up the rubble to look for trapped persons. Even though so many tents have been sent there, women and children were sitting under makeshift shelters with straw on top. Some of the injured have been shifted to Karachi and many have suffered fractures.
Meanwhile, Balochistan chief minister Abdul Kadir Baloch who cut short his visit abroad and returned today made an appeal for the rescue and relief work to be carried out without hindrance. In the National Assembly, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s member Shah Mehmood Qureshi slammed the Balochistan government which still had not decided on a provincial cabinet thanks to squabbling aspirants. He said poor governance and inadequate rescue and relief measures were evident even as 300,000 people were affected.
Mr. Khan admitted that rescue teams were still trying to get to the furthest places but the widespread area with poor road communication made things difficult. He said there were some areas where there were no roads and so inaccessible that even helicopters couldn’t make it. Search and rescue teams with dogs were hunting for survivors in the flattened homes and tents were sent to the area along with blankets, food packets and supplies. The NDMA has sent 7000 tents and 5000 blankets to Awaran. All operational helicopters were being pressed into service, the Minister said.