─ AFP/File

Bloodstained coats: how a hospital horror unfolded in Quetta

A series of systemic lapses could be responsible for an increase in the death toll.
Published August 26, 2016

It was just like any other day in the provincial capital; yet another valuable life had been lost and the body had arrived at Quetta Civil Hospital.

The slain president of the Balochistan Bar Association, Mr Bilal Anwar Kasi, lay on a table before Naeem Ahmad, a paramedic at the hospital.

A crowd of lawyers had gathered outside the emergency room to protest Mr Kasi's killing. The energy outside the ER was palpable.

The hospital staffers feared the worst; after all, Civil Hospital had seen terror incidents in the past.

"We told the lawyers not to stand outside [the ER]," Mr Ahmad said. "They were emotional," he said, rehashing the painful details of August 8, 2016.

"They did not listen to what we were saying. Their numbers kept increasing."

Many of these lawyers are not among us today.

Who were the lawyers who died demanding justice for one of their own? See our memorial to find out.

Shrugging this nagging feeling aside, Mr Ahmad got on with his day, shifting Mr Kasi’s body from the morgue to the x-ray room for examination.

Minutes later, a suicide bomber slipped into the crowd outside the ER and blew himself up.

In the commotion that followed, the hospital staff ran to their rooms.

"We were not hurt because we were inside," the paramedic recalls.

Feroze Khan, a peon at the hospital was not as lucky. He had gone out to fetch water and was knocked down by the impact of the blast.

With his ears still ringing, he opened his eyes to men in black coats screaming for help. Since Mr Khan was a little further from the blast site, only his legs were injured.

"After the explosion, firing rang out from the roof of one of the hospital buildings. Heaven knows who was firing ─ whether it was terrorists or officials," Mr Ahmad said. The firing injured more people.

What followed were some of the most trying minutes of Mr Ahmad’s life.

Fearing another attack, hospital staff waited anxiously inside the building for about 20 minutes.

When they finally stepped out, they got to work immediately, not stopping to process the horrific scene unfolding around them.

"We rushed to [the injured lawyers] and administered first aid to around 25 people," Mr Ahmad told Dawn.

At least 70 died in the attack. The loss could have been greater, said Muhammad Junaid, a rescue worker.

Read: 54 voices — A letter to the bereaved

He estimated that there were over 150 lawyers outside the ER at the time of the blast.

Just yards away from the hospital another group of lawyers was approaching. Had the bomber detonated his explosive belt a few minutes later, even more lives would have been lost.

What followed were a series of systemic lapses that have unfortunately become a norm in Pakistan.

All ambulances reached the site of the attack late except for Edhi Foundation ambulances.

"We had to shift injured people to Combined Military Hospital in police vans, lawyers' personal cars and rickshaws," Mr Junaid said.

The death toll increased because "instead of being treated at the Civil Hospital’s trauma centre, the injured had to be taken to another hospital", Dr Inamul Haq* of Civil Hospital regretfully told Dawn.

The hospital's trauma centre has been closed for over two years now due to "politics".

Explore: 54 voices — A fraternity in mourning

The attack, though jarring, was hardly surprising for Dr Haq. Entering Civil Hospital is not a difficult task, he said, as there are five entry points to the premises.

"One of our doctors, Dr Dareen, was injured in the blast when she was treating a patient in the surgical ward," he said.

Dr Dareen is now being treated at the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi.

After the attack, Civil Hospital Quetta has seen a considerable decline in the number of patients.

Prior to the horrific incident, Dr Haq said that around 500 patients would be present at the hospital during every shift

He now sits among some 50 odd patients, ruing the day Quetta lost the backbone of its legal community and his hospital couldn’t do more to help.

Name has been changed to protect identity.

Header photo AFP.