Scene: Neelum Stadium, Muzaffarabad, Thursday 13th October, 2005
The whole stadium ground has been converted into 8 helipads for the fifty or so helicopters that are working extended shifts providing relief to earthquake victims in isolated mountainous areas.
Helicopters are continuously landing at the pads disgorging casualties, quickly refuelling and stocking up with relief goods before taking off again. Thousands of lives are being saved by tireless efforts of these nameless and faceless people.
None are perhaps more driven than the pilots of Pakistan army’s 19 helicopters (now sadly 18 due to yesterday’s tragic crash). Calling them ‘heroes’ BBC says they were the only group of people ‘that have delivered more than was ever expected of them’.
"Each one of the 20-odd chopper pilots employed by the Pakistan army has been doing 12 to 16 hour days since the quake struck. For the first two days, they were even flying during the night - a practice strictly forbidden under normal circumstances.
…The commanders of these pilots say they will not stop their aid efforts, and when ordered to do so they fight and resist to the point of insubordination. "
It is believed that the army's fleet of the 10 Russian-built MI-17s - along with a few smaller ones - has rescued 6,000 people so far.
As the helicopters and crew were working their hearts out in non-stop emergency shifts last Thursday, a phone call was made from the PM’s Secretariat to the army demanding three of the army's ten large MI-17 helicopters and reservation of three of the eight helipads at Neelum Stadium for a period of two to three hours (during this time of peak relief activity).
The reason for the request? Shaukat Aziz wished to visit Muzafarrabad - he needed a single helicopter for himself and two for his security staff.
The purpose for the journey? Obviously to be the lead item on PTV’s evening news, as well on the news bulletins of the dozen or so private TV channels. And if he struck it lucky, then a spot on CNN and BBC as well.
I am told that the Lieut. General in charge of the relief efforts replied to the effect: ‘we will pretend that you never made such a crass and stupid request’.
Your blogger thinks Aziz got off too lightly. While all of Pakistan is in a state of anguish and bereavement, all this fellow can think about is polishing up his image and his ego. A sharp kick up his backside (preferably administered by someone from the Balakot or Bagh area) ought to have been the very minimum in punishment.