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93 stranded people airlifted out of Hunza, Chilas

By Shabbir Mir

GILGIT/KOHISTAN: As authorities flew out dozens of stranded tourists, students and patients from Hunza and Chilas in Gilgit-Baltistan on Thursday, people in Kohistan protested the government’s indifference towards those buried under a landslide in Othar Nala. The landslide occurred on Monday, with at least 25 feared buried.

The evacuation from G-B took place amid fears more rains could lash the region in coming days. Officials said between 10 and 15 days would be required to restore traffic. The evacuation was done through army helicopters and C-130 cargo aircraft, which had earlier brought supplies to the region after a weather advisory predicted more rains and landslides over the next three days.

“About 93 stranded people, including 12 foreigners, have been flown into Gilgit from Hunza,” Gilgit Deputy Commissioner Hamza Salik told reporters on Thursday. “They (foreigners) will be transported to Islamabad [today].”

According to another official, 21 students stranded in Chilas were airlifted to Pattan in Kohistan.

Food shortage

Recent rains damaged KKH, the only route connecting G-B with rest of the country, at more than 50 places from Gojal to Besham, Shangla district in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. This resulted in the shortage of food items and fuel as several areas in the region were hosting stranded travellers.

Reports suggested many such passengers in Kohistan, and Diamer, Nagar and Hunza in G-B would not be able to get food as shops had run out of supplies. Locals were crossing over huge boulders on foot, risking their lives to reach important destinations.

G-B Minister for Works Dr Muhammad Iqbal told the media on Wednesday the restoration of traffic could take between 10 to 15 days as the destruction was significant.

At least 14 people have died and six suffered injuries due to rains which lasted for over 48 hours and damaged hydropower projects supplying electricity to Gilgit town and elsewhere in the region.

‘Go Khattak go’

Another massive landslide washed away parts of Karakoram Highway (KKH) in Kohistan, dealing a massive blow to efforts being made by the Frontier Works Organization and National Highway Authority to restore traffic.

The route is the main supply line for the mountainous region. “The landslide is huge. It took out a large portion of the highway,” said Shahabuddin, a resident of Chilas, G-B which is adjacent to Kohistan district in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Hundreds of protestors took to the streets in Komila, Kohistan on Thursday against Chief Minister Pervez Khattak for not visiting Othar Nala despite being in Pattan.

“Go Khattak go” resounded on the streets of Komila during the procession. Addressing the protestors, Maulana Waliullah criticised the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf government for its poor response to the calamity-hit people of Kohistan.

“All roads were blocked for over a week but the provincial government is unresponsive.” He said the CM flew to Pattan to visit his adviser Abdul Haq Khan and went back without visiting Othar Nala village where 25 people, presumed dead, were buried under landslide debris with no official rescue efforts under way. Mir Ghazan Sikandar, a tribal elder, also criticised the CM for not visiting Othar Nala when he was in Pattan. “Such discrimination and insensitivity towards the people is against tribal and religious values,” he added.

On their own

Sikandar announced Kohistanis would not accept any assistance from the provincial government anymore and would retrieve the bodies

Ubaidur Rehman another tribal leader said, “Khattak visited Pattan for cheap popularity which he proved after he flew back to Peshawar” when Othar Nala was only at a distance of 70 kilometres.

They announced over 1,000 villagers would reach Othar Nala and try and recover the bodies from the heavy debris.

When approached for comments Deputy Commissioner Kohistan Raja Fazal-e-Khaliq was not available. DPO Ali Rehmat avoided commenting on why Khattak did not visit Othar Nala. Rehmat told The Express Tribune teams of police and locals were busy in the recovery of bodies but to no success.

He added some points along KKH had been cleared by FWO but another landslide on Thursday near Chochang village had blocked access again. “I have never witnessed such disastrous landslides in my life,” he said. He added it would take more than two days to clear the way using heavy machinery – provided the landslides stop occurring.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 8th,  2016.

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