ISLAMABAD: Spread out in long grass, with the smell of spent jet fuel hovering in the air, burning plastics and a sea of corpses covering, the similarity to the Air Blue crash was eerie.
With 127 feared dead and village houses covered with smouldering remains, the traffic jams en route to the disaster site were unimaginable.
Thousands of people had dropped everything they were doing, rushed out of their homes and rushed to the crash site to help save the survivors of Bhoja Air flight 213.
They saved thousands.
Just not people.
Not a single person was alive by the time the ill-fated aircraft came to a stand in Hussainabad village. But there were survivors.
Just not the human kind.
Millions worth of cellphones, jewellery and other luggage items were strewn across the bloodied, burning field. While most were damaged, there was still money to be made by the unscrupulous, and we are blessed with more than our fair share of those.
Before rescue services could even get to the tiny hamlet, villagers started sifting through the debris in a futile search for survivors. Help soon arrived, or so they thought. Unfortunately, it was the kind they and the victims’ families could do without.
At the site, a crowd of gawking voyeurs had collected, seeing the opportunity to take a couple of pictures of the crash site or pose with the wreckage. They were squealing with laughter and joking around. When our news team was stuck in traffic – mostly other gawkers – along the narrow road to the site, one twenty-something gent returning from there, laughing like he was leaving the cinema after watching a comedy, advised us to turn around because the scene was “boring”.
He then stopped in the middle of the road, got off his bike, went and stood in front of an ambulance and had his friend take pictures. It wasn’t until a soldier got to the site and ordered him to return to the rock he crawled out from under that traffic got moving.
Once the army moved in and started organising things, gawkers were told to turn around and traffic flow improved. Unfortunately, with nowhere else to embarrass themselves, they converged on the media assembled at the nearby gas station-cum-temporary relief organising area. Here, while some volunteers attempted to help the traffic police, arguing with the voyeur crowd, dozens of cars, bikes, vans, pedestrians and even a tractor kept trying to get to the site, creating havoc.
Somewhere along the line a scuffle broke out among the spectators – one group was talking so loud it was apparently drowning out the other’s shameful ‘jokes’. All the while, a small group of victims’ relatives standing nearby was trying to stay composed.
It wasn’t until the classic laathi-charge threat that the jokers left.
Still, many ‘tamashais’ who made it to the site managed to pick up stray cellphones and jewellery. One such group left in a luxury sedan.
All this while our dear interior minister raced into action to get to the hospitals and then the crash site. Fortunately, army men, remembering Malik’s inability to tell apples from bananas, decided it would be better if he did not help them look for human remains in the mud. Malik’s dozen-car motorcade raced back, cutting off ambulances and other emergency vehicles as it did on the way to the scene. A bunch of local political leaders also showed up and left without even getting their shoes dirty.
Death is not supposed to be a joke. But in a poverty and hunger-stricken land where words like tsunami inspire hope, atomic weapons are a source of pride, and soldiers are sent to die in frozen wastelands, what is wrong will always be right.
The writer is a sub editor on the Islamabad Desk. [email protected]
Published in The Express Tribune, April 22nd, 2012.