‘Tired of empty promises’, residents of Balakot apprehensive over CJP’s visit | Pakistan Today

‘Tired of empty promises’, residents of Balakot apprehensive over CJP’s visit

  • Local MNA Sardar Yousaf blames provincial govt’s incompetence

Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Saqib Nisar visited Balakot on Wednesday to hear the first-hand account of the 2005 earthquake victims and to direct investigations into the alleged embezzlement of USD5 billion financial assistance extended by the international community for the city’s rehabilitation.

The CJP also evaluated the performance of Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) and the work of the provincial and federal government in the city which was hit hard by the 2005 earthquake.

However, residents of Balakot who had been living on “empty promises” since 2005 are apprehensive over the CJP’s visit.

Javaid Khan, a local farmer, was cynical about the outcome of CJP’s tour. “We really don’t know what to expect 13 years after the earthquake. Soon after the 2005 calamity, the then president Pervez Musharraf visited Balakot. We had high hopes with his visit but except for waving from within his car, he did nothing for us, he did not even step down to hear what we had to say,” he stated at length while speaking to Pakistan Today.

Taimur Khan, another resident who spent 6 months in Lahore getting treatment at the Sheikh Zayed Hospital after the earthquake rendered him unable to move, showed dismay over the current living conditions in Balakot.

“We were dignified people before 2005, after the earthquake our children, women and elderly have spent cold winters and scorching summers in the shelter houses given to us in aid. The shelters did nothing to protect us from the harsh weather conditions and only had two rooms which made it hard for us, a family of 16 to live together”, he shared.

Muneeb, a young 18-year-old student who spent a night buried under the debris of his collapsed school and subsequently had to miss two years of education because of his broken leg, stated,”After I was rescued from the collapsed building, I was given medical treatment to recuperate physically but was never treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which made me fear buildings and schools”.

He further stated,” It was only after my mother paid out of her own pocket for a psychiatric that I was treated for PTSD and resumed my studies after a break of two years”.

Similarly, Khizar, another young 19-year-old boy who lost his mother and sister in the earthquake stated, “There are no good schools left in Balakot, there is only one-degree college that too for boys and those who wish to get a higher education have to go either to Abbottabad or Islamabad. Both out of reach for the majority of Balakot’s population”.

Local Member National Assembly (MNA) and Minister for Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony, Sardar Muhammad Yousuf who won the seat on Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)’s ticket, while speaking to Pakistan Today, welcomed the news that the CJP had taken notice of the sufferings of the earthquake victims and was visiting Balakot.

“I welcome the CJP to Balakot, it is indeed a very positive step that he has taken. As s federal lawmaker myself, I raised the issue of the lack of rehabilitation of the earthquake victims multiple times and want our brothers in Balakot to get a respite from the constant state of uncertainty they are in,” the minister said.

Speaking about what he had been able to do during his tenure as MNA of the area, Sardar Yousaf said, “The federal government had not only provided funds to the provincial government but had also given ERRA complete autonomy over its affairs”.

He further added, “It is truly sad that even after 13 years people have not been given their land in the New Balakot city. I believe provincial government’s incompetence in one of the biggest reasons why residents of Balakot have still not been properly rehabilitated”.

Ayesha Bibi

The writer is a former member of the staff.

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