QUETTA: Survivors of a suicide blast which killed over 125 people as it ripped through an election rally in Mastung town of Balochistan described scenes of panic and horror on Saturday, as hospitals struggled to cope with scores of wounded.
The attack on Friday was one of the deadliest in the country’s history.
More than 150 people were wounded when the suicide bomber detonated just as Siraj Raisani, who was running election for a provincial assembly seat, was about to make a speech in a tent packed closely with supporters. He was among the dead.
“As he stood up, there was a huge bang,” said student Rustam Raisani, who was part of the security arrangements and was standing on the stage behind Mr Siraj.
“I could not see anything. There was only dust and the smell of blood and burnt human flesh. I could hear voices screaming.
“I tried to get up and I saw people who were trying to run towards the gate. They were trampling on dead bodies... Everybody was screaming.”
The student was at the Civil Hospital in Quetta, where many of the survivors were taken. The hospital was overflowing on Saturday, with so many people crammed into corridors and relatives of victims sleeping on floors and in corners that it was difficult to walk through the building.
Witnesses and emergency workers have described seeing the injured piled into rickshaws in a desperate attempt to get them to hospital from Mastung, which has no electricity and little in the way of medical services.
In the ringing moments after the blast, survivors began to rush towards the exit, said Ghulam Hussain from his hospital bed where he was being treated for head injuries.
They were stepping on those on the floor, he saw.
“It was a sort of stampede... I started to pull some of the people and scream for help.”
Luckily, he said, others from the crowd realised what he was doing and began to help him pull the wounded out of the rush.
The blast, the deadliest in a series of attacks that have killed 154 people in Pakistan in the past week, has dented optimism after the militancy-wracked country has seen dramatic improvements in security in recent years.
Analysts have predicted more violence ahead of an already-tense July 25 election, which pits the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz of ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz against Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf of Imran Khan.
Smaller parties such as Siraj Raisani’s party are also contesting polls across the country, with activists calling on the military to provide greater security at campaign events.
“(Raisani) had just begun when something hit me,” Mansoor Ahmed, a 34-year-old activist with Raisani’s Balochistan Awami Party who also survived the blast, said from his hospital bed.
“I could hear very faint sounds of people screaming, and (there was) blood and human flesh. It was like a bad dream.”
Another man had fallen on him when the bomb went off, he said. “When I pushed (him away)... a fountain of blood spurted out of my stomach.” After that, he says, he could not remember much.
The doctors have told him that ball bearings, which were packed into the explosives, had torn into his stomach.
Ahmed said he did not know if the dozen or so friends that he attended the rally with had lived.
“The doctors said I will survive,” he said.
“But I am not sure. Do you think I will survive?”
Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2018