While the authorities gave the all clear after an hours-long siege at the country’s busiest airport, the rescue operation was wrapped up Monday morning without scouring through the entire premises to ensure that no one was trapped anywhere.
However, later it transpired that seven employees of a private cargo company were still trapped inside the cold storage of a Gerry’s D’nata cargo station that was partially damaged in the assault by nearly a dozen heavily armed attackers.
In what could be described as criminal negligence, the authorities, including the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), were oblivious to the plight of the trapped men and the government swung into action only after Express News broke the story in its programme ‘To The Point’ with Shahzeb Khanzada.
The trapped men – identified as Inayat Fareed, Saif, Sultan, Farhan, Shahzan and Nabeel Ahmed – had taken refuge in the cargo centre’s cold storage facility during the terror attack on Sunday night and were trapped inside the building when it caught fire and its entrance collapsed.
The families of the trapped men — many of whom had been standing outside the station since early morning — said that they had been trying to approach the CAA since 3:30pm but no one took notice of the plight of their trapped beloved, who had been calling them from inside the building.
A crying woman, whose son was among those stranded inside, said the authorities didn’t pay heed to their appeals until Express News took up the issue and highlighted their predicament.
Strangely enough, even the interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, did not have a clear idea about the number of the people trapped. He told a news conference at Karachi airport that only three men were inside and efforts were under way to rescue them. While reporting live from the site, an Express News reporter, however, said no rescue efforts were under way.
Moving scenes were witnessed at the cargo station where the families were protesting against the government for their failure to recover the trapped men. “No one is trying to bring back our beloved brother who is stuck inside this building,” said the sister of Nabeel Ahmed standing outside the cargo station.
According to her, Ahmed called from inside the building at 11:30pm but since then they have lost contact with him. “I will not leave this place until I see my brother. I’ll get inside myself to take him out if the rescue teams don’t take action,” she said.
The protesting relatives slammed the provincial authorities, DG CAA and prime minister’s adviser on aviation for what they called their ‘criminal negligence and apathy’ towards the plight of those trapped inside.
They had been trying to help their trapped loved ones in the midst of the burning goods in the cargo centre. Many of them showed that their feet were burnt during the effort.
They said the men were trapped in the cold storage where medicines worth billions of rupees were stored. “The administration is not taking any action because it thinks the medicines are more valuable than human beings,” one of the protestors said.
Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F) leader Kamran Tessori said he had sent heavy machines but the police were not allowing them to come to the cargo center and had stopped them at the Star Gate.
After the marathon live transmission on Express News, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif directed the army and the Rangers to take immediate steps for the recovery of the men.
Other political leaders, including Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad Khan, visited the site to sympathise with the families. Muttahidda Qaumi Movement leader Wasim Ahmed also visited the place and said his party was sending heavy machinery to rescue the trapped men. However, as a result of VIP movement, the rescue work was further hampered.
Shireen Mazari of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) called it a failure of the government and said she would raise the voice against this negligence in the parliament. Jamaat-e-Islami Amir Sirajul Haque said steps should be taken to rescue the trapped men.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2014.