SYDNEY: Twenty-five years ago, on April 10, 1988, we were sitting in a classroom at Islamabad Model School, F-7/3, when we heard a loud blast. The blast shattered several windows of the school building and we were immediately evacuated. A huge mushroom cloud appeared over the horizon far off in the rough direction of Rawalpindi, a couple of dozen kilometres away. Our biology teacher, Mr Abdus Sami, a very intelligent person, saw this and told us that most likely a known weapons depot in Rawalpindi had exploded at Ojhri Camp. This was quite a remarkable guess as everyone else was talking about the possibility of some sort of an attack by India or even the Soviet Union.
Later that day, we heard stories of missiles flying all over the twin cities. Newspapers and the television reported that nearly 300,000 rockets and some kind of self-igniting phosphorus-fuelled missile had launched by themselves after a massive explosion, in which hundreds of trucks at the Ojhri Camp site were decimated. It was a one of a kind event during the last days of General Ziaul Haq’s rule. The then prime minister, Muhammad Khan Junejo, subtly blamed General Zia for this tragedy, something which contributed to his government’s dismissal soon after.
My father, who worked at a Rawalpindi college at the time, returned home that afternoon carrying a couple of spent rockets and a small missile. We still have the missile in our house as a souvenir.
In the incident at Ojhri Camp, hundreds of people must have perished but due to the dictatorial regime we were living under at the time, we only knew what PTV told us — with the truth about the purpose of having such a huge weapons depot inside a major city being kept a secret. The missiles destroyed property all across the twin cities. People were given inadequate compensation for the damages; for instance, a person whose roof had partially collapsed in our neighbourhood in G-9/1 was offered Rs38 as compensation.
The culture of shoving everything that implicates the establishment in displaying incompetency under the carpet is still prevalent. We have a long way to go to change this culture. I expected that our free media would have covered some aspects of this dreadful event on its 25th anniversary and throw light on the lessons learnt but I have not seen any significant coverage regarding the event.
Mirza Imran Ahsan Karim
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2013.