Written By: Raheel Suleman
The ceaseless contributions of Pakistan Army have successfully restored peace and stabilty in Balochistan.
Balochistan, the largest province of Pakistan constituting 44% of Pakistan’s total land mass, is susceptible to environmental hazards such as tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, heat waves, cold waves and droughts.
A number of devastating calamities have hit the province in the recent past. Some of the ruinous events have been as follows: floods in 2000, 2010, 2011 and 2012; cyclone in 2007 and drought in 2000.
During these natural calamities, Armed Forces of Pakistan remained at the forefront to rescue and rehabilitate masses where needed.
On January 17, 2017 continuous heavy rains and snowfall broke the twenty years’ record and caused widespread flooding across three districts of Balochistan. Government of Balochistan declared emergency in Qilla Saif Ullah, Qilla Abdullah and Kalat Division. Pakistan Army responded immediately in this exigency and started undertaking airborne operations in affected areas in coordination with District Government Quetta and PDMA Balochistan.
Deputy Director Admin, Relief and Planning PDMA Balochistan Naveed Ahmed remarked that 'situation was out of control in many flood affected areas of Balochistan, especially in Ziarat, Muslim Bagh and Kalat regions, nevertheless Pakistan Army on emergency basis assisted PDMA in transporting food and non-food items to the affected areas. In this regard four helicopters of Pakistan Army and Government of Balochistan started relief activities from Khalid Aviation Base, thanks to Pakistan Army that we managed to provide relief to flood-affected people of Balochistan and thus saved thousands of lives'.
On September 24, 2013, Awaran District of Balochistan was hit by an earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale with five aftershocks on September 28.
Awaran which was once a stronghold of foreign-sponsored militants is now free from these misguided anti-state elements. Those ugly environments and violent mindset has changed. The entire credit for this mind-shift goes to WHAM (Winning Hearts and Minds) Operations by Pakistan Army and Frontier Corps (FC) Balochistan, especially the massive rescue and rehabilitation operations, conducted by Pakistan Army, during the last floods are unforgettable.
Awaran District is home to nearly 300,000 people. Of them, some 125,000 were affected by the earthquake. According to the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority’s (ERRA) estimates, 375 persons were killed and 825 got injured and about 25,000 houses were destroyed.
With just about 3.3 % of its total land under cultivation, Awaran is one of the most underdeveloped districts of Balochistan. Awaran District makes a lopsided triangle on the map between three important highways: the RCD Highway, the Coastal Highway, and the (projected) Motorway (M-8). With 12 hours of travelling time, Karachi is the closest city from Awaran.
Like in previous such calamities, Pakistan Army, along with the Frontier Corps (FC), Balochistan, promptly reacted to the situation as requested by the government of Balochistan. Even though the FC components located in the area were themselves struck by the earthquake as much as was the civilian population, yet they were the first ones to respond to the situation.
The Army units were moved from Khuzdar and Karachi. Initially, the Army and FC troops distributed their own rations (about 500 tons), tents, blankets, sleeping bags, mattresses, bed sheets, clothing, cooking utensils, bathroom items, such as buckets, medicines, and other commodities of common use. Later, collection points were established in Karachi, Quetta, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad, and, collected goods were distributed among the affected people of Awaran district.
The Army units were moved from Khuzdar and Karachi. Initially, the Army and FC troops distributed their own rations (about 500 tons), tents, blankets, sleeping bags, mattresses, bed sheets, clothing, cooking utensils, bathroom items, such as buckets, medicines, and other commodities of common use.
The relief work continued even during the Eid days. About 2,500 Army personnel and 1,000 FC personnel were part of the relief efforts. Army developed a good interface with the provincial government, the ERRA, National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), and Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
By the end of the Eid holidays, 24 relief sorties of C-130 and 240 helicopter sorties had flown, completing over 526 flying hours.
Army established a field hospital in Awaran and six mobile medical camps at far-flung localities. Over 8,000 local patients were treated, 7,000 tons of food items delivered and 37,000 tents were distributed by the Army besides thousands of school books, stationery items and sports gear. This in other words meant a colossal relief and rehabilitation operation spread over an area of 182 kilometres.
As a matter of fact, Pakistan Army has transformed into an impressive and inspiring nation-building force, which remains on call of the nation for defence against external threats, security against internal threats, and human security against non-traditional threats like the environmental disaster of Attabad Lake and Gayari in Gilgit-Baltistan to floods in Thatta and Badin, and earthquake in Awaran District.
Moreover, when Balochistan suffered from nature's wrath in 2010, 2011 and 2012, engulfing major parts of the province with devastating floods, it demanded a national response. Pakistan Army responded quickly and conducted numerous rescue operations. The Army’s performance was reflecting the careful planning, optimal utilisation of resources, sharp foresight, and bold leadership that is hallmark of Pakistan Army. It helped in controlling the damage to a large extent thereby saving not only lives, but also the means of livelihood. In some ways, these events led to a shift in the previously held negative opinion of the Pakistani Armed Forces due to enemy propaganda.
During the monsoon floods in Balochistan in recent years, according to several media reports, Pakistan Army deployed over 2,000 troops and roughly 100 plus helicopters. Dozens of military doctors and paramedical staff were sent to affected areas. An entire fleet of army aviation flew numerous sorties round-the-clock to transport relief goods to the affected areas and to bring the sick and injured back to base hospitals. Where helicopters were unable to access, troops carried relief goods on their backs and were able to reach them in time.
Pakistan Army troops donated rations from their own quota to distribute among the affectees, and also donated one day’s salary to the relief fund. Helicopters were instrumental in providing timely rescue and provision of supplies. Several Army relief camps were set up to help people who had lost their homes and livelihood in the floods. According to a careful estimate, Pakistan Army rescued over 80,000 people during these operations.
Even in the 2012 floods in Balochistan, Pakistan Armed Forces were recognised for having played an unrelenting role in relief operations. They established relief camps and medical camps in the close vicinity of the affected areas. To provide safe drinking water in the flood affected areas they set up 10 water filtration plants. Army doctors treated more than 25,000 patients in medical camps and mobile medical units in all flood affected districts for providing instant medical assistance. Efforts were also made to pump out flood water from the affected areas.
There were times when a segment of Balochistan population was misled by shear negative propaganda sponsored by foreign intelligence agencies against Armed Forces of Pakistan. However, as the famous saying goes, a friend in need is a friend indeed, Pakistan Army came to the rescue, relief and rehabilitation of people of Balochistan. That tide of mistrust has changed into relationship of love, confidence and trust. Awaran which was once a stronghold of insurgents is now free from the anti-state elements – thanks to the timely and massive rescue and rehabilitation operations by the Armed Forces of Pakistan.
Tides have changed indeed!