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Ojhri disaster saw end of Junejo govt: Report

ISLAMABAD, April 13: A decade after the Ojhri camp disaster in Pakistan, a special report in The News, a leading English language daily here...

ISLAMABAD, April 13: A decade after the Ojhri camp disaster in Pakistan, a special report in The News, a leading English language daily here, reveals that the incident led to the fall of Pakistan’s first democratic government after the martial law of General Zia Ul Haq. The government of prime minister Muhammad Khan Junejo, installed by General Zia, was dismissed shortly after the Ojhri camp blasts and the newspaper says that an inquiry report by Junejo’s government was the reason for the dismissal.

On April 10, 1988, over one million citizens of the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad stared death in the eye: A blast in the ammunition depot of Ojhri camp wreaked havoc as shells and rockets of various shapes and sizes started raining over a radius of ten miles. Red Cross officials say that the death toll after two days was over 1,000 with an equal number injured or maimed by the flying projectiles.

The first reaction of many citizens was that India had attacked. This was during the height ofthe Afghan conflict, with Pakistan about to sign the Geneva accords four days later. Others argued that the Soviets had attacked Pakistan to teach the country a lesson.

What had actually happened was that an ammunition camp within the limits of Rawalpindi had been blown up. Due to the close proximity of Islamabad and the direction of the missiles, most of the heated rockets and shells were projected towards the federal capital. Most of the ammunition in this camp was for the Afghan war, reveals the newspaper report.

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Two committees were formed by the government to look into the affair. The first was the military committee headed by a serving General. This committee’s findings and recommendations were ignored since it called for the removal of General Zia’s right hand man, General Akhtar Abdul Rehman, along with other senior military officials. Its report, presented within one week of the incident, was rejected.pAnother more interesting committee was the one set up by prime minister Muhammad Khan Junejo.This was a political committee headed by a Cabinet minister and comprising four federal ministers. Controversy surrounded the findings of this committee. The members could not reach a consensus on who was responsible for the Ojhri tragedy. In his remarks, the head of the committee, Aslam Khattak concluded, “No one was responsible. It was an act of Allah.”

However, the minister of state for defence, Rana Naeem Mehmood, a hawk in the Junejo cabinet and a die hard proponent of democracy, prepared a non paper which was signed by three of the five members of the political inquiry committee. The paper recommended the court martial of senior Generals and laid the blame on General Akhtar Abdul Rehman. “Many believe that this paper cost Junejo his government,” reports The News.

The newspaper report also gives another interesting angle: an interview with General Hamid Gul, a senior member of the Army Command at the time. Gul says, “Before the blast, the first draft of the accord said both the Sovietsand the Americans would stop arms supplies to Afghanistan. But after Ojhri, the Americans accepted negative symmetry, agreeing that both sides would continue with their supplies.”

First published on: 14-04-1998 at 12:00:00 am
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