QUETTA: The sun was about to set as some 20 Uzbeks stepped out of three Chhippa ambulances and vehicles on Quetta’s Double Road. They had returned from burying seven people, most of them belonging to the same family.
The bereaved made their way to a lone tent set up amid mud houses belonging to Uzbek nationals. It was a day of mourning for everyone, including five Pashtun people, who were their neighbours.
One of the Uzbeks, Mohammad Zaib, put a cup of green tea in front of Sher Mohammad, who waved it away. His wife and children had been killed on Tuesday morning when a sand-laden dumper truck rolled atop the mud house where he lived.
Zaib reminded Sher Mohammad that he had not eaten since the tragic incident so he took a few reluctant sips, but tears trickled down his face. I sat near him silently for at least an hour, encroaching on his moment of grief.
“What [should I] tell you? I lost all [I had], and only Yousaf [was] lucky [to] survive, as he was also sleeping in the room at the time of incident,” the distraught man said.
Yousaf, a student of class 9 at Sirki Public High School, narrated what had happened: “At 10:30am, I had come home after selling juice at the footpath in front of Akram Hospital. As I offered my prayers, I went to my room to sleep. Suddenly, the roof of our room started vibrating... [it felt] like an earthquake. I saw my father rush toward us from the door and then the roof collapsed on us... I was stuck inside.”
One of their Pashtun neighbours had extricated Yousaf from the rubble.
“Fortunately, he was not hurt, and we took him to a hospital along with his mother, who was badly injured. We took them to the trauma centre of the Sandeman Provincial Hospital.”
Wiping his tears with a handkerchief, Yousaf said he had lost four of his sisters, his mother, a brother and a maternal uncle who had arrived from Afghanistan the night before. One of their Pashtun neighbours present in the tent said, “Look around you, several plazas and garages are being built illegally despite the fact that it is a residential area. Such incidents have occurred in the recent past, too, in the same place. But no one had died then and only the wall of a mud house was damaged. After that, we wrote to Quetta Mayor Dr KaleemUllah Kakar to take notice of illegal construction of plazas in the area, because we feel unsafe. To this day, he has not taken notice of the construction of these plazas. That is alarming.”
Wailing by now, Yousaf said that it had taken at least an hour-and-a-half for a crane to arrive. The rescue team had also been late. “My siblings died under the dumper. Had [the rescue teams] come on time, they could have at least saved the lives of my family members.”
Like the many other Afghans, Sher Mohammad’s family have been living in Quetta for more than three decades. His neighbours said that they were sincere, honest, and hardworking. Yousaf guided me out of the tent to show me damaged rooms, now a big ditch. We were standing there when a police van stopped near us. “Where is the peon of this plaza?” they asked. A man standing on the road whispered that he had gone to offer prayers in a nearby mosque. “Let him come,” the police said, “We will take him to the police station.”
Published in Dawn, March 15th, 2017