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LAHORE: Gilgit has certainly become fearsome for foreigners after the tragic Friday morning Naltar Valley helicopter crash, which has claimed the lives of two important diplomats and the wives of two other international envoys stationed at Islamabad.
About two years ago in June 2013, the picturesque and historic Gilgit had seen the killing of nine international tourists at the base camp of the world’s ninth tallest mountain of Nanga Parbat.
Research conducted by the Jang Group and Geo Television Network reveals that plagued with the menace of sectarianism, Gilgit doesn’t hold good memories for the local folks either, especially when it comes to aviation-related tragedies.
Apart from the most recent deaths of two Pakistan Army Aviation pilots in the Naltar Valley incident, numerous unfortunate Pakistanis have lost their lives, especially after they had flown off from this city. To cite some examples in this context, at least 31 people were killed on December 8, 1972, when a Fokker F27, flying from Gilgit to Rawalpindi, had nose-dived into a snow-capped mountain village called Maidan near Jallkot.
Then on June 5, 1981, a Fokker F27 had met an accident soon after take-off in Gilgit though no casualties were luckily reported. And on August 25, 1989, one of the most terrible plane accidents of Pakistan’s Aviation history had taken place here when yet another Fokker F27—with 54 people aboard—had disappeared after taking off from Gilgit for capital Islamabad. The wreckage of this unlucky plane was never found.
Here follows a list of international envoys, professional foreigners and tourists who had to encounter unnatural deaths in Pakistan over the years:On November 21, 1979, a group of Pakistani students, enraged by Radio reports that the United States had attacked Masjid-al-Haram in Makkah, had stormed the American embassy in Islamabad, burning it to the ground. Two US diplomats—Marine Security Guard Steve Crowley and Army Warrant Officer
Bryan Ellis—were killed in this incident.
On August 17, 1988, the then Pakistani President General Ziaul Haq, the then US Ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Raphel, the Chief of the US Military Mission to Pakistan Brigadier-General Herbert Wassom, and 17 key Pakistan Army officials had perished in a plane crash near Bahawalpur city. On December 19, 1990, an Iranian Consul General Sadiq Ganji was gunned down at Lahore’s Mall Road.
On February 22, 2002, the famous “Wall Street Journal” reporter, Daniel Pearl, was kidnapped and murdered in Karachi by Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and company. The American journalist was beheaded.
On March 17, 2002, a grenade attack on a Protestant church in the heavily guarded diplomatic enclave of Islamabad had killed five persons, including a US diplomat’s wife and his daughter. The then US Ambassador to Pakistan, Wendy Chamberlain, had identified the dead Americans as Barbara Green and her 17-year-old daughter Kristen Wormsley.
On May 8, 2002, a bus bombing in Karachi had killed 11 Frenchmen and three Pakistanis near the Sheraton hotel. The 11 Frenchmen were engineers working with Pakistan to design an Agosta 90B class submarine for the Pakistani Navy. The New Zealand Cricket Team staying in a nearby hotel had immediately decided to fly back home, cancelling the tour.
On May 3, 2004, a car bomb in Gwadar had killed three Chinese engineers. The blast had occurred as 12 Chinese engineers were being taken to work in a van. At that time, more than 400 Chinese engineers and construction workers were working on a $250 million project.
On March 2, 2006, a suicide car bomb had killed four people outside the Karachi Marriott Hotel, about 20 yards from the US Consulate. Among the dead was David Foy, an American diplomat. It appeared that Foy was the direct target of the bomber, who had detonated his vehicle in the car park behind the consulate as the diplomat had arrived. The blast came just two days before the US President George Bush was to visit Pakistan. On July 8, 2007, unidentified gunmen had killed three Chinese workers near Peshawar, in what appeared to be a terrorist attack apparently linked to the bloody siege of militants at Islamabad’s Lal Masjid.
On March 15, 2008, a bomb was hurled over a wall surrounding an Islamabad restaurant. The “Luna Caprese Restaurant” was an outdoor cafe frequented by Westerners, journalists and diplomats. Four of the 12 people wounded in the bombing were US FBI agents. In addition to wounding the agents, the explosion had killed a Turkish woman and injuring a fifth American, three Pakistanis, a person from the United Kingdom and someone from Japan. FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko had confirmed later that four of his colleagues from the US spy agency were “slightly injured” in the blast.
The CNN had stated: “A high-ranking federal source had earlier told CNN that the agents’ wounds included deep lacerations, concussions and fractures.”
An FBI spokesman in Washington had not commented, but the US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe had told CNN that President Bush appreciated the hard and dangerous work that US officials were doing around the world.
On September 20, 2008, a massive truck bomb had exploded outside the Marriott Hotel in, Islamabad, killing at least 57 people and wounding 266 others. The majority of the casualties were Pakistanis; although at least five foreign nationals were killed and 15 others were reportedly injured. The Czech ambassador to Pakistan, Dr Ivo Zdarek, two American military personnel and a Danish intelligence agent were killed. A US State Department employee was missing and presumed dead.
In addition, six Germans, four Britons and a Filipino receptionist from the hotel were among the injured. The suicide attack, believed to be carried by a single individual, had left a 20 feet deep and 50 feet wide crater. The attack was carried at local Iftar time, when the local and foreign residents had assembled together to have the Ramazan feast. The attack was significant as all the top political, diplomatic and military top brass was also dining in the nearby Prime Minister’s Secretariat after President Asif Zardari’s first parliamentary address.
On June 9, 2009, a suicide attack at Peshawar’s Pearl Continental had killed at least 17 people and wounded 70. The United States government had reportedly planned to purchase the luxury hotel as part of its plan to open a consulate in the city. Most of the foreigners caught in the blast were working with aid agencies helping the internally displaced persons.
While an official of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees from Serbia, Aleksandar Vorkapic, was among those killed, a Filipino employee of UNICEF had also died in this incident. Three UN employees from Germany, Somalia, and the UK were wounded. It had been reported by both local and foreign media that four personnel of XE (Black water) had also lost lives in this blast.
On October 5, 2009, a suicide bomber dressed in military uniform, had attacked the highly-fortified United Nations World Food Programme offices in Islamabad, killing five people, including one Iraqi citizen.
On February 3, 2010, at least 10 people, including three US soldiers, were killed when a bomb had hit a convoy near a school in the north-west region of Pakistan. The US soldiers were travelling in a convoy and were headed for the inauguration of a girls’ school. Three schoolgirls were also among the dead.
In March 2011, a Saudi diplomat Hassan al-Khatani was shot dead in Karachi by unknown motorcyclists.
On May 20, 2011, a group offour Russian citizens and one Tajik, (three women and two men) had been travelling in a hired car in Balochistan. As soon as they had approached a checkpoint in the Kharotabad neighbourhood of Quetta, they had abandoned their car and had decided to proceed on foot. The Frontier Corps soldiers and police manning the Kharotabad checkpoint (reportedly and as officially claimed) thought they were about to be attacked by Chechen suicide bombers, “prompting” them to act accordingly.
As the five travellers had approached the checkpoint, they were greeted with a volley of bullets and all fell to the ground. TV footage had caught one of the injured women waving her arm and pleading for mercy. She too was killed. The day after the incident, the Quetta chief of police, Dawood Junejo, stated in a press conference that “the five Chechens were not killed in firing by security personnel, but in a bomb explosion and that five mobile phones, two diaries, 48 fuses, seven detonators, a computer disc and CDs had been recovered from the alleged suicide bombers.”
Dr Baqir Shah, the Police Surgeon, who performed an autopsy on the deceased, had later rejected the claim in court that the foreigners had attacked the police with hand grenades. On May 31, 2011, the Vice Consul of the Russian Consulate in Karachi, Tural Dzhavadov, said that the five foreigners who died in Quetta were not Chechens. On December 29, 2011, it was reported that the police surgeon, Dr. Baqir Shah, was shot dead by unknown gunmen in Quetta.
As is the case with any other country, Pakistan too has been experiencing plane accidents since its inception.The first air accident had happened on May 10, 1948, at Basra, Iraq, but no one was killed and the second crash had occurred on November 26, 1948, near Vehari, Punjab. All 21 passengers and five crewmembers were killed in this accident. The third crash had happened on December 12, 1949, at Karachi. At least 26 people were killed in this.
Although every human life is extremely precious, Pakistan has lost some very eminent personalities in these air accidents.Here follows the list of a few very important Pakistani personalities who fallen victims to these aviation disasters during the last 65 years or so:
Major General Muhammed Iftikhar Khan (1909-1949), who was the brother of Pakistan’s first General Muhammad Akbar Khan, had died in a Dakota plane accident on December 13, 1949. The plane was flying from Lahore to Karachi when it had crashed near Jhungshahi, killing Major General Iftikhar Khan, Brigadier Sher Khan and 24 others. General Iftikhar was on his way to Karachi to proceed to England for a course at the Imperial Defence College.
History has it that Major General Iftikhar had been nominated to become the first local Commander in Chief (C-in-C) of the Pakistan Army after General Douglas Gracey’s retirement, but Lady Luck had other plans. (Reference: The December 14, 1949, edition of the Sydney Morning Herald)
In 1951, Aitzaz-uddin, the Inspector General Special Police Establishment (now FIA), was travelling from Rawalpindi to Lahore with three other officials when his plane had rammed into hills near Jhelum. He was carrying important inquiry documents about the assassination of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan.
In February 2003, the then Pakistan Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal Mushaf Ali Mir, his wife and 16 others had perished when their plane had hit a mountain in foggy conditions near Kohat.
The officers killed with the Air Chief were Air Vice-Marshal (AVM) Abdul Razzaq, AVM Saleem Nawaz, Air Commodore Syed Javaid Sabir, Air Commodore Rizwanullah Khan, Group Captain Aftab Cheema, Wing Commander Syed Tabassam Abbas, Squadron Leader Ahmed Yusuf, Squadron Leader Abdur Rab and Squadron Leader Mumtaz Kiani etc.
The Air Chief’s wife Bilqis Mushaf Ali Mir was the sister of Major General Hussain Mehdi, the then DG Rangers of Punjab.
On July 2006, a Multan to Lahore Fokker flight could not reach its destination as it had crashed into a wheat field after burning into flames just ten minutes after takeoff. The 41 passengers and crewmembers were resultantly killed. Amongst the ill-fated passengers were the Vice-Chancellor of Bahauddin Zakariya University, Prof Dr Muhammad Naseer Khan and an internationally known Pakistani neurosurgeon Prof. Iftikhar Ali Raja.
By the way, on October 8, 2007, one of the three helicopters escorting the then Pakistani President General Musharraf had crashed some 20 kilometres from Muzaffarabad in Azad Khashmi, when the head of the state was there to commemorate the second anniversary of the devastating October 5, 2005 earthquake.
Four soldiers had perished in this incident and President’s spokesman Major General Rashid Qureshi was among those who had dodged death. According to the ‘New York Times’, General Rashid Qureshi’s hand was burned in this incident. This event had taken place just two days after Musharraf had won the presidential polls.