Shahzada Siraj Ulmulk
Yesterday 200 vehicles full of passengers were stranded for 11 hours at Baradam on the Chitral side of the Lowari Pass in sub-zero conditions while the authorities debated whose responsibility it was to come to their rescue.
Their ordeal started at 4am when two trucks collided against a third one and blocked the road which was already under heavy snowfall.
When I got the news from Hindukush Express buses taking passengers to Chitral from Islamabad and Peshawar I called the Dir police who are nearest to the NHA offices at the south portal of the Lowari Tunnel.
Sub-Inspector Hamid seemed wide awake and said he had already alerted the NHA about the happening. He gave me the phone no of of the police checkpost at Baradam where the accident had occurred.
Again impressively, the SHO at Baradam Nizar Khan seemed wide awake and alert to the situation when he answered my call. He said while they were waiting for the NHA to come to the rescue he was going to mobilize a tractor standing nearby and belonging to contractor Dawood of Ayun to see if it can help.
I was further encouraged when I got a call from Chitral police Moharir Ejaz at the Ashiret police post that he had alerted the head office of contractor Usmani Associates who had a lot of machinery available to clear the road.
When nothing happened in the next four hours, I sent a whatsapp to DC Chitral Naveed Ahmed telling him about the incident. I was surprised to receive an immediate reply from him despite the fact that he was travelling from Peshawar to Chitral and had just reached Dir.
The whatsapp message to DC Naveed resulted in some movement of machinery to the site and by 10am a path was made through the fallen trucks to allow only small vehicles to squeeze through. But larger vehicles like our buses were still stuck.
By 2pm, despite the efforts of DC Chitral, when I saw no worthwhile progress I went back to my original source of strength, the Dir and Chitral police, and it was then that the true cause of the tragedy that had befallen these hapless passengers came to light.
NHA said their area of responsibility ended just at the border of where these vehicles were stranded. From there onward it was the responsibility of contractor Usmani Associates whose agreement with NHA included a clause where the company will keep the road clear of snow during the period of their contract to construct this portion of the road.
Although the required cranes dozers and dumpers were available at the site of Usmani Associates they were unwilling to use them saying they had an ongoing tussle with NHA due to which they had stopped work on the Chitral side of the Lowari.
It was like a survivor of an attempted murder is dying but the doctor is not attending to him saying it is a medico-legal case so a police report is needed and the police are arguing about whose jurisdiction the attempted murder has occurred.
My buses started moving at 5.30pm after remaining stranded for over 11 hours and after two of their main window glasses got broken by other loaded vehicles skidding off the slippery road.
During this wait, I had to get a 4WD vehicle from Chitral to evacuate a passenger who was returning from Islamabad after a heart operation and also some women passengers who were finding the long wait untenable.
This is only the beginning of the winter season in Chitral.
There is going to be much more snow ahead and many trucks will slide off the road and block it like we see each year. But starting from today will someone please stand up and own this road so that we are assured that we are not left stranded like this each time a minor accident occurs.