"Death everywhere…a stench of decaying bodies"
At first, all the news reports mentioned that Muzafarabad, the capital city of Pakistani Occupied Kashmir, was the worst hit. What tiny amounts of aid and help were provided by the authorities came there. But then a cable news team found their way to Bagh district and filmed the devastation there.
As a result, last Sunday, many local people from my home town of Kotli started to collect food, water, blankets and money and to try to make their way by foot to Bagh. There was no response from the authorities in our local town. We discussed with some members of the local health department and decided to make a joint trip, involving Socialist Liberation members, including a member of the local paramedic trade unionist, Khalid, as well as other doctors and paramedics, to go to visit Bagh and Rawalakot to find out what was needed by the victims in these areas.
We left before dawn, on Monday 10 October, and returned at 2.30am, the following night. It took well over five hours to travel the 100 km to Bagh.
"Like a giant hand flattened the city"
I thought there would be wide scale destruction but nothing prepared me for what I saw. It was like a giant hand had flattened the whole city. The worst thing is that up to Monday no aid had been organised by the authorities. Half a million Kashmiris in Bagh, and the surrounding district, have been abandoned by Musharraf, the military and the government of rich capitalists and feudals. There is no central co-ordination in Bagh for a rescue effort. Jamati Islami and Lashkar-e-Taiba, both reactionary Islamic groups in Pakistan, responsible for whipping up sectarian tensions have, however, set up small camps there.
You cannot go into the centre of the city because the roads are filled with so many craters. The District Hospital is completely destroyed and those staff who were uninjured have left Bagh city because of the failure of help to arrive.
And then there is death everywhere. There is a stench of decaying bodies. There are no phones, no water and no electricity. Hundreds of young women from poor backgrounds were killed in the religious madrassa schools, sent there by their parents in the vain hope that education would give them a way out of poverty. Over 1,400 students were crushed to death in the degree college, along with their teachers. A middle and primary school was flattened and 25 teachers along with 300 students perished.
It was not only schools that collapsed but also some government buildings. For example, in Bagh the offices of the electricity board collapsed with 1000 workers inside. None escaped. Up until Sunday morning local people said that there were screams for help but now nothing. They will all be dead by now.
Many of the more solid multi-storey buildings are made with ceilings of concrete slabs. When these collapsed, it made rescue efforts more difficult. We spoke to one young guy who had dug through two layers of these slabs to rescue his relatives. People are desperately digging through the rubble with their bare hands, using sticks to try to take out dead relatives, so they can bury them. There no facilities to bury people. If the bodies are not buried soon there will be widespread epidemics.
We spoke to a doctor, who had just returned from a village called Ali Sujaal, where five people died. Another young man who had just returned from his village said he had personally buried 92 people, over the last two days. No-one has yet assessed what is the actual damage in the periphery – the hundreds of small villages which are perched precariously on top of mountains. But from what people say, every family has lost at least five or six relatives.
There is a desperate need for tents and blankets but also food and provisions. It is very cold here at night.
People are getting very angry here. They say "Helicopters fly over and people just wave at us. What use is that for us." This is pathetic, just pathetic.
There are a few more buildings standing in Rawalakot, which is a city nearby Bagh, which we visited next. The four storey Jinnah hospital collapsed, with no accurate figure of casualties. The Combined Military Hospitals has disappeared into a pile of rubble. The army has set up camp here. But they are doing nothing. Five or six helicopters full of aid arrived, as did a similar number of trucks. Yet, this aid is in the control of the army and they are not distributing it. This is because the authorities say that it is not enough to satisfy the needs of the people so they are waiting for more to arrive!
The local administration is nowhere to be seen and the army has disappeared. While the emergency numbers for the local authorities are working, they are not answering them, despite the fact that they have been seen around town.
We spoke to the head of the paramedics’ union and arranged for him to take an advance party of paramedics with tents to set up a field station clinic in the grounds of the crushed District Hospital, in Bagh, on Tuesday, under the auspices of the Trade Union Rights Campaign (TURC). We will go around collecting more aid in Kotli and set up a stall in the town centre in the name of the TURC. Once the container of aid arrives – organised by members of our sister organisation in Pakistan, the Socialist Movement (CWI) – we will go to Bagh to help with the field hospital.