ISLAMABAD/LAHORE: Holding the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) government responsible for the deaths of tourists in Murree, the opposition on Saturday accused Prime Minister Imran Khan and his aides of victim blaming and demanded a judicial inquiry into the incident.
Among those demanding a judicial probe was one of the main allies of the government both in the Centre and Punjab — the PML-Q — to fix responsibility for the deaths of tourists.
At least 22 people died in their cars on Saturday while being stranded in snow in Murree amid a tourist influx into the hill station. Thousands of cars loaded with tourists were reportedly still stuck on the routes leading to the hill station on Saturday evening.
The opposition was of the view that the PM’s “blue-eyed” Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and his team had not made any arrangements to cope with any untoward situation despite forecasts of a heavy snowfall.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Imran Khan caused an outcry on Twitter after he linked the deaths with the “rush of people proceeding [to Murree] without checking weather conditions”.
“Shocked and upset at tragic deaths of tourists on road to Murree,” the premier tweeted. “Unprecedented snowfall and rush of people proceeding without checking weather conditions caught district administration unprepared.”
Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid, in a video message, said tourists flocked to the hill station in such large numbers “for the first time in 15 to 20 years which created a big crisis”.
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said in a statement that record snowfall in the tourist resort caused the deaths and urged people to avoid travelling to Murree and beyond due to the extraordinary rush of people there.
Later, in a press conference, he claimed the Murree administration and Punjab government had been warning tourists for a week that the weather conditions in the hill station and the northern areas were not suitable and tourists should refrain from travelling there.
“Imran Khan has made victim-blaming the governing philosophy of his otherwise directionless government,” Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif said in a tweet.
He said the PTI used to blame someone or the other whenever something went wrong. “There is always someone ‘responsible’ for whatever goes wrong. A country of 220 million people is being run by those whose default response is to shirk responsibility for their actions,” he tweeted, expressing grief over the loss of so many precious lives. “The death of dozens of tourists in Murree is a mass murder by incompetence, not just an unfortunate incident.”
“It is a tragic incident of administrative incompetence and criminal negligence. It is a proof of the administrative incapacity of the PTI government that it is not even able to manage traffic in Murree and Galyat,” he further said in a statement, and asked that when the government knew citizens were trapped in such a cold weather, why no effort was made to rescue them and provide them shelters?
Shehbaz, who ruled Punjab for a decade, questioned: “If the government is not capable of managing even a traffic situation, what right does it have to stay in power and why? If tourists were going in such large numbers, why were advance arrangements not made? Were the administrations asleep? How can a government that can’t save its citizens trapped in a traffic jam, get the people out of the quagmire of inflation and deal with the big and serious problems of the country?” Shehbaz questioned.
“Imran Niazi has no moral courage. At least the ministers and their subordinates responsible for this serious criminal negligence should be dismissed. If no one will be held responsible for this calamity, the government’s criminal silence over the deaths of the people is tantamount to a heinous sin,” he exclaimed.
Former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi in a media talk in Murree held PM Khan and Punjab CM Buzdar responsible for the death of tourists, saying the rulers had failed to come up with plans to deal with any crisis. “Shehbaz Sharif ruled Punjab for over 10 years and every year, prior to snowfall, he used to visit Murree, held meetings on how tourists will be protected and traffic will be controlled in case of any emergency,” he added.
“Now, both Imran Khan and Usman Buzdar should take responsibility for the tragic incident and not blame the deceased,” he added.
The PML-N leader also claimed that locals had carried out the rescue operation as the provincial and federal governments were nowhere in the hill station. “Shehbaz Sharif provided billions of rupees of machinery in Murree which lay idle, as no one was available to run these machines.”
PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz also tweeted: “I have never seen such chaos, apathy, incompetence and most importantly a government that has nothing to do with the misery of people. What is most shocking though is not only the dismissive attitude but the contempt and scorn they pour on the victims.”
PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari extended sympathy and condolences to the bereaved families and said he shared their grief.
PPP leader and former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani in a statement called the tragedy in Murree a national disaster, saying all national resources should be mobilised to rescue the families still trapped. He demanded the government declare a day of national mourning.
“It is unfortunate that the district and provincial administrations were unable to control the inflow of people and vehicles into Murree despite weather warnings. The CM should be overseeing rescue operations from the ground in Murree,” he added.
The PPP leader also demanded a judicial inquiry under a Supreme Court judge to ascertain the negligence of the district and provincial administrations.
PPP Senator Sherry Rehman took on the administration, saying instead of attracting more tourists the government should have declared a warning for jammed roads. “Over 155,000 vehicles have entered Murree since Monday, but only 135,000 have left so far,” she added.
PML-Q leaders Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Parvez Elahi and Moonis Elahi expressed grief over the tragedy in Murree and demanded those responsible be punished by conducting a high-level investigation.
“Such a large number of people were turning to Murree and the administration should have known what measures were needed for security and traffic arrangements there,” they said in a statement. The PML-Q leaders called for swift efforts to evacuate the tourists stranded in Murree and Galyat and appreciated the role of the army, Frontier Constabulary and Rescue 1122 in the rescue operation.
Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2022