Leader of the Opposition demands P.M. Khan resign, as government claims deaths of stranded tourists a result of ‘natural calamity’
Pakistan’s opposition parties on Monday rejected an inquiry committee formed by the Punjab government to probe the causes of last week’s Murree tragedy, maintaining that a judicial commission should be formed to fix responsibility for the deaths of stranded tourists over the weekend.
In speeches delivered to the National Assembly by various opposition leaders, they criticized the administration of Murree and the National Disaster Management Authority for failing to provide the equipment required to clear roads blocked by heavy snowfall under previously established protocols. They lamented that no one from the government or the administration had responded to emergency calls of the stranded tourists in a timely manner, leaving them trapped in freezing weather for nearly 20 hours. They also questioned why no “red alert” had been issued over the inclement weather to warn tourists and local residents about the threat posed by the snowfall.
At least 22 tourists died in Murree last week after being trapped in their vehicles for nearly a day in freezing weather due to roads blocked by heavy snowfall and traffic far in excess of hill station’s Murree total capacity. Most of the deceased, per a preliminary report submitted to Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, died due to carbon monoxide poisoning, as they tried to stay warm in their cars without any ventilation. Locals and tourists alike have slammed the government’s response, noting that no one paid any heed to their calls for aid.
Calls to resign
In his address to the National Assembly, Leader of the Opposition Shahbaz Sharif questioned the government’s repeated assertions of the tragedy being a result of a “natural disaster.” He noted that the government had failed to prepare for the inclement weather, adding that authorities responsible for removing snow had not been present. Describing the government’s role as “a criminal act of negligence and inefficiency,” he said there was no pardon for lives lost in the tragedy.
“If there was an influx of tourists flocking to the hill station, what steps were taken by the government to deter them?” he asked, stressing that this was not the first time it had snowed in Murree or that tourists had overrun it. “They [government] said that the administration was not prepared. If that was the case, then what are you there for? Resign and go home,” he said while referring to a statement issued by the Prime Minister Imran Khan on the Murree tragedy.
Sharif, who previously served as chief minister of Punjab, said protocols were already in place to cope with the situation that had arisen in Murree last week. “People died because of their criminal negligence and they say a committee will investigate,” he said and demanded a judicial commission be formed to investigate the incident and identify all culprits.
Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, in his speech, targeted Information Minister Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, noting that he had been rejoicing the surge of tourists in Murree on social media and trying to project it as economic prosperity. This same minister, he added, had started blaming people for not checking the weather forecast before going to Murree. “This is hypocrisy of the highest order,” he said. “Victim blaming those who have suffered from a tragedy is the forte of the prime minister and his ministers,” he said, noting similar statements had come from the government during a sit-in-in of Quetta’s Shia Hazaras and the gang rape of a woman on the Sialkot-Lahore Motorway.
In his rebuttal, the information minister sought to deflect from the issue by referencing ongoing corruption cases against Sharif. Accusing the PMLN leader of politicizing the incident, he claimed that had the Sharif family allocated the funds it used for “palaces” in the hill station on its development and infrastructure, this tragedy would not have occurred. “Today, when there is a revolution in the country’s tourism, they are teaching us about what should and should not have been done,” he added.
PTI MNA Sadaqat Abbasi, who is from Murree, said the deaths had been caused by a “natural calamity”, and claimed that rescue workers had been unable to reach the stranded people because fallen trees and electricity poles were blocking the road.