ISLAMABAD, April 9: Twenty years have passed but the images of destruction caused by the Ojhri Camp disaster are still fresh in the minds of many residents of Rawalpindi and Islamabad.
Over 100 men, women and children were killed and many times more were wounded by the missiles and projectiles which exploded mysteriously and rained death and destruction on the twin cities on this day in 1988.
Physical scars of the tragedy may have healed but the nation is unaware till this day what, and who, caused that disaster and why. An investigation was conducted into the disaster but, like in the case of all other probes into national tragedies, its report was not made public.
The then prime minister Mohammad Khan Junejo appointed two committees, one military and the other parliamentary, to probe the military disaster. His action so infuriated military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq that he dismissed his handpicked prime minister on May 29, 1988 - the main charge being that he failed to implement Islam in the country.
While the parliamentary committee, headed by old politician Aslam Khattak, went out with the Junejo government, the military committee under Gen Imranullah Khan submitted its report before the government’s dismissal.
Subsequent governments of prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif which followed Gen Zia’s fiery death in a mysterious plane crash on August 17, 1988, also kept Gen Imranullah Khan’s findings under covers.
Some opposition members called for making it public during the last five years of Gen Pervez Musharraf’s military rule but the PML-Q government took the position that it would not be “in the larger national interest”.
Neither political observers expect the PPP and the PML-N doing so even when they have been swept into power again by the people and run a coalition government.
Interestingly, when contacted, leaders of both the parties agreed that the Ojhri Camp inquiry report should be made public but refused to commit to do so.
Junejo’s defence minister Rana Naeem Ahmed had told Dawn in an interview last year that he had received the report but said it did not fix responsibility on any one and declared the huge disaster an accident.
Even then the ISI seized it in a raid on his office the day after the Junejo government was dismissed, he claimed.
“They returned all my belongings, except the briefcase that contained the report,” he said, disclosing that the report was inconclusive and focused just on the causes of the blast.
It was a bright and sunny morning on April 10, 1988, when the citizens of Islamabad and Rawalpindi were startled by huge explosions and swishing sounds as if fireworks were going off.
Thousands of missiles and projectiles soon started raining down on the two cities the Ojhri Ammunition Depot, situated in the densely-populated Faizabad area, blew up.
Officially the death toll was 30, but independent estimates put the figure much higher. Prominent among those killed was a federal minister Khaqan Abbasi whose car was hit by a flying missile while he was on his way to Murree, his hometown.
His son accompanying him was hit in the head. He went into deep coma and died some two years ago after remaining on artificial respiration for 17 years.
The Ojhri Camp was used as an ammunition depot to forward US-supplied arms to Afghan Mujahideen fighting against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. There were reports that a Pentagon team was about to arrive to take audit of the stocks of the weapons and that allegedly the camp was blown up deliberately to cover up pilferage from the stocks.
Some reports said that Ojhri Camp had about 30,000 rockets, millions of rounds of ammunition, vast number of mines, anti-aircraft Stinger missiles, anti-tank missiles, multiple-barrel rocket launchers and mortars worth $100 million in store at the time of blasts that destroyed all records and most of the weapons thus making it impossible for anyone to check the stocks.
Prime minister Junejo had promised to the National Assembly that the inquiry report would be made public and the guilty would be punished but was sacked by Gen Zia.
Senior members of the PPP and the PML-N admit that their governments in the past made no serious effort to make the report public.
A PPP member however claimed that the second Benazir Bhutto government did attempt to do that but failed due to resistance from the “concerned quarters”. There are some elements in the Charter of Democracy, signed by the PPP and the PML-N, which could be pursued to make such reports public, he said.