Over two hundred Pakistani students stranded in the violence-torn Osh city of Kyrgyzstan arrived home on Tuesday and were reunited with their families.
On special instructions from Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, the students were successfully airlifted out of danger.
Pakistan had sent two c-130 military planes to Kyrgyzstan in order to bring back the stranded students. The first plane landed at the Chaklala airbase in Rawalpindi early on Tuesday morning, with 134 people onboard. The second flight, carrying the remaining 127 Pakistanis, including the body of the slain student Ali Raza, reached home at around 5 pm.
Ali Raza, the only Pakistani national to be killed in the ethnic violence, was hit by a stray bullet and succumbed to his injuries as he was being transported to hospital.
When the first aircraft arrived at the Chaklala airbase the students were warmly greeted by Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, the Chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, Lt-General (retired) Nadeem Ahmed, and officials from the Foreign Office and the PAF.
A large number of the students’ family members were also anxiously waiting at the airport. The second airplane was received by Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, who said he was satisfied with the cooperation extended to Pakistani authorities by the Kyrgyz government.
“Pakistan enjoys excellent relations with Kyrgyzstan,” he told journalists at the Chaklala airbase. “We want to maintain good relations with Kyrgyzstan. The foreign ministry and the interior ministry of Kyrgyzstan responded to our calls for help immediately.” Qureshi added that Pakistan was the first country to have made arrangement to bring its citizens back from Kyrgyzstan, and was among the first countries to send aid to Kyrgyzstan. “If any Pakistani national remains in Kyrgyzstan, we will bring them home,” he said.
Pakistani students returning from Osh generally expressed satisfaction over the way the government handled the situation. “We were collected by car, and then transferred to a bus that took us to the airport,” a student told Express News. “We heard firing on the way, but we were with security personnel who took care of us,” she added.
Another student maintained that the Pakistani embassy had kept in constant communication with him. “The embassy kept updating us about the security situation,” he said. “They acted commendably.”
Asif Sohrab, who arrived in Pakistan from Kyrgyzstan on Tuesday morning, said “it was difficult to stay alive, there was that much violence in the country”. Asif said he was transported to the airport in a bus that was guarded by commandoes and tailed by police vehicles.
Pakistani students, however, were not the only people rescued from the war-torn region. Many students had married Kyrgyz nationals during their stay in the country, and these spouses accompanied their husbands and wives to Pakistan.
Special arrangements to process these Kyrgyz national had been made at the Chaklala airbase on Tuesday, to allow them to remain with their loved ones.
At least 170 people have been killed in the ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan, according to the health ministry.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Andrej Mahecic said 200,000 people had been displaced within the country in addition to the 75,000 who sought safety in Uzbekistan.
As refugees started to reveal their traumas, the full horror of atrocities including rape and torture committed in the five days of fighting between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in the south of Kyrgyzstan was revealed.
Kyrgyzstan’s authorities have withdrawn a request for foreign peacekeepers.
(With additional input from Agencies)
Published in the Express Tribune, June 16th, 2010.
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