ISLAMABAD / PESHAWAR: Our loved ones were not celebrities. They were not from military families. They were not big-shot bureaucrats. Does that make their loss any less significant to us?
Whether in Chitral or Islamabad, the outraged words of dozens of people affected by the loss of their loved ones on PK-661 were strikingly similar.
It’s been nine days since the doomed Pakistan International Airlines flight came crashing down over a hill near Havelian. It’s been nine days of trying to close emotional wounds for relatives of victims who were not baray log (famous or influential people). And in those nine days, the only thing that the authorities have offered them is salt.
Only four of the 19 bodies of victims from Chitral have been identified, and two of them have not been taken home yet due to transportation issues, said Afnan Ali, one of the relatives.
Alone in the world
And what of those who lost everything?
Hasina is 14. On December 7, the rest of her seven-member family were flying to Lahore for a funeral. She didn’t join them because she had exams to prepare for. Now, she has six funerals to attend.
Her parents and four siblings were on PK-661.
Hasina heard the news flash on the TV. She fainted, and has been in shock since coming to, said Asia who is taking care of her now.
She is unable to comprehend what happened to her, Asia said. “She weeps, then she laughs, then she starts trembling. We’re worried about her health and future as there is no one to support her,” Asia added.
“The Pims (Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences) administration doesn’t acknowledge our plight. They have taken blood samples from us twice. On our way back home, when we were near Dir, the hospital administration called us to come back and give another blood sample at the DNA reception,” said Shehzada Mashooqul Mulk, another grieving relative.
Relatives of the victims are passing through agony every day, waiting for a phone call from Islamabad. But amid their agony is an eerie calm. “We know there will be very little in the coffin. Only what remains of the bodies,” said Saeed Khan who lost two female relatives in Havelian.
Meanwhile, the feeling remains that a double-standard is in effect.
“We lost loved ones just like ‘they’ did. We should be treated the same way the notable people were. We saw injustice in treatment while giving blood samples at the hospital,” said Taimur Khan, who lost his father Takbeer Khan on the plane.
Haphazard from the start
Jawadullah Abbasi, a victim’s relative, noted that the bodies were retrieved by locals and the rescue operation was disorderly, which further complicated identification. “Limited space in the morgues at Ayub Medical Complex and Pims has added to this.”
And it’s not like this is something new.
“It’s the third air crash in six years, but there have been no SOPs or facilities to deal with such disasters,” he said. Besides, he added, confusion due to lack of coordination between different departments was even more troubling.
A local MPA from the PPP claims that the PML-N government has given a priority list to the Pims administration for the order in which DNA tests are to be conducted.
“Military first, then the DC, then foreigners, then us at the end,” MPA Saleem Khan said.
After he vented his outrage at the document, which The Express Tribune could not verify the existence of, he said members of parliament from the district have asked the federal government and Pims to clear the bodies at once that they can fly home and offer closure to the victims’ families.
Incidentally, a number of relatives of the victims made similar claims as they protested in Islamabad on Thursday outside the National Press Club. Some cited the fact that the DNA identification of ‘notable’ victims has already been completed, while they still wait to receive ‘what little remains in the coffins’.
PIMS denies prioritisation
Despite repeated requests, only a few families had come forward with medical and dental records of the victims which were necessary for identification of bodies, according to Pims administrator Dr Altaf Hussain.
The DNA verification process was complicated as 47 coffins brought at Pims contained 52 sacks carrying mixed up remains of the victims. “It was a computerised and mechanical process delivering results in batches, so you can’t say the identification was prioritised,” he told The Express Tribune.
“It is easy for us to deliver the remains without identification, but religious, moral and ethical responsibilities do not allow us to do so. We have adopted this painful procedure so that the genuine remains are handed over to heirs,” he added.
The DNA verification process, according to lab officials, is expected to be completed by Friday (today) after which the bodies will be flown to Chitral in a C-130 plane. (Edited by Vaqas Asghar)
Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2016.