Pakistan PM Imran orders probe into Murree snowfall tragedy - GulfToday

Pakistan PM Imran orders probe into Murree snowfall tragedy


Army members take part in a rescue operation in a heavy snowfall-hit area in Murree. AP

Tariq Butt, Correspondent

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has ordered an inquiry into the Murree tragedy, which will find answers to many questions that are key to the calamity and mainly pertain to the role of Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and the Rawalpindi commissioner.

Did Punjab Buzdar hold any meeting prior to the winter season and after the met office had predicted heavy rains and snowfall in the Murree area? Are the minutes of any such meeting available? Did the chief minister or his office monitor the situation and what measures did Buzdar or his office take to prepare for the emergency, which was clearly forecast by the Met department? In all such matters relating to Murree, the commissioner plays a critical role. Before the tragedy, when did the commissioner last visit Murree? Did he hold a preparatory and coordination meeting in the popular hill resort?

Traditionally, the commissioner holds a meeting of all federal and provincial departments at the Jinnah Hall Murree to ensure preparedness prior to the snowfall season. Did the commissioner hold this meeting in Murree? When and where are the minutes of the meeting? The Rawalpindi deputy commissioner, as per the law and standard operating procedures (SOPs) is responsible for emergency and relief measures in such calamities. When did he first reach Murree once news of heavy snowfall and a tourist influx was reported? Did the commissioner and deputy commissioner reach in the morning of Saturday 8th Jan — after the tragedy — or before? The government has provided special camp offices to both the commissioner and deputy commissioner at Murree. Murreevictims-funeral People and relatives carry the coffins of a family, who were killed in freezing temperatures after being stranded in a vehicle in Murree. Reuters

These camp offices have a certain purpose. During the height of the tourist influx in summers and winters, these key officials should ‘camp’ in Murree. Camp offices are not provided for holidays but for the performance of official duties. The Punjab government, deputy commissioner and commissioner are empowered to “requisition the army in aid of civil power” if the situation is not manageable.

Army-Pakistansnow  Soldiers arrive to clear road covered with snow in Murree. AFP

Murree is a large garrison town with the general officer commanding (GOC) and station commander based there. Why was the army not requisitioned by the provincial government or commissioner and deputy commissioner in time? The expressway to Murree is the responsibility of the National Highway Authority (NHA).

Keeping the expressway clear is the responsibility of the NHA, which comes under the communication minister Murad Saeed. Did Saeed or the NHA chairman hold any preparatory meetings once the huge snowfall was predicted? What role did the NHA and motorway police play to facilitate motorists and tourists on the Islamabad Murree expressway? The inquiry will also determine who did what prior to this crisis and during these crucial 12 hours.

Toll-plaza-Pakistan Local tourists walk as they return from Murree on the outskirts of Islamabad. AFP

Relief and rescue is the responsibility of the Punjab Disaster Management Authority (PDMA). What did the PDMA do during this crisis? What was the role of the National DMA? As unprecedented snowfall thawed at a popular Pakistan mountain resort on Sunday, rescued tourists were found reckoning with the deaths of 22 fellow travellers in a frozen traffic jam.

“We didn’t get any type of alert from society, from the government, from Google, from the news, from the weather,” said 18-year-old Duaa Kashif Ali, a tourist from Islamabad. “Locals helped us,” she said, after emerging from a guesthouse where she waited out the worst snowstorm witnessed by Murree in decades.

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