ISLAMABAD: “Kalma-e-Shahadat,” Iftikhar Ahmed bellowed as he shouldered a casket for burial, his voice choked with emotions.
For 15 days, he had been waiting in anguish to utter these words. To lay his daughter, Romaisa Khan, in her final resting place. But the body inside the casket was not even hers.
In a collective burial service in H-11 graveyard on Friday, 72 coffins were laid to rest, representing 19 unidentified victims of the Airblue plane crash on July 28.
Iftikhar Ahmed had just married off his daughter to Owais Khan. The couple was flying to Islamabad for their honeymoon when the plane crashed into Margallah hills and killed all 152 people on board.
Airblue had arranged for a special flight to bring the relatives of the victims from Karachi to Islamabad.
The relatives were devastated to find that the bodies were charred beyond recognition, but DNA tests raised hopes that the families might at least get the remains of their loved ones. However, Owais and Romaisa’s families, among others, found nothing. Out of the 72 remaining coffins lying in cold storage, none contained Ahmed’s daughter’s body.
“Someone else had already claimed her body,” he added, his voice trailing off with despair.
On Thursday, the relatives received a phone call from Airblue.
“The management of Airblue will build a monument for these 19 people. The names of the crash victims will be inscribed [on the monument],” said Deputy Commissioner Islamabad Amir Ali Ahmed.
“They have been permanently buried. In case any DNA result matches later, the relatives can apply to exhume the body,” he added.
“It was almost impossible to identify most of them even through DNA tests as they were decomposing fast,” he said.
The cold storage where the government had been storing the remains was designed to store fruits and vegetables and was not suitable for long-term storage of human bodies.
“It was imperative to bury them soon. The decision of collective burial was the only solution,” DC Amir insisted.
However, the relatives at the burial said that the administration and Airblue management had already made the decision. “The Airblue management only informed us of the decision on Thursday. We had no choice but to accept it,” said Iftikhar Ahmed.
“In fact, it was on our [the relatives] insistence that the administration decided to hold a proper burial of the caskets,” Iftikhar maintained. “Otherwise they had only planned to inform us of the decision in the meeting and do the burial later.”
Shaukat Bangash, who had also come from Karachi, had hoped that he would be able to get the body of his 52-year-old friend, Ghulam Abbass, after the DNA tests were done. But in the end the family had to consent to the collective funeral service.
Ahmed, Romaisa’s father, said that the government had failed to honour the promise of the compensation money. “Most of the families have not received a single penny of the Rs500,000 compensation announced by the government as yet,” he said.
“In the end, we got nothing of our children. No belongings, no body parts, nothing at all. On July 28, they literally vanished from our lives.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 14th, 2010.