Remembering the Ojhri Camp Blast

Posted on April 10, 2009
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Disasters, History
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Adil Najam

Today is April 10.

Nineteen years ago, today, on April 10, 1988 the military ammunition depot at Ojhri Camp, Rawlapindi, blew up and unleashed an inferno that sent all sorts of rockets all over Rawalpindi and into neighboring Islamabad. It also let to a sequence of events that led to the ouster of then Prime Minister Mohammed Khan Junejo and, depending on which conspiracy theorist you believe, to the death of then President General Mohammad Zia ul Haq.

Reader Dilnawaz of Bradistan Calling forwarded me an article by Tariq Mehmood on the Ojhri blast. Some excerpts worth reproducing:

21 years ago, on the 10th April 1988 Ojhrii dump in Rawalpindi was blown up. This was a deliberate act of destruction. Hundreds upon hundreds of missiles rained down on Rawalpindi and Islamabad. Over 5000 people were killed. Many, many thousands more were injured.

I was working as a journalist for the Frontier Post and along with a colleague, Imran Munir, went into the camp, early the day after the explosion. Every now and again, a rocket or missile would take off, and land somewhere, causing yet more deaths and destruction.

All manner of rockets and shells were going off. People were sitting around shell shocked. The houses close to Ojhri were reduced to mere shells. I went into one house. A man in his late 20s was sitting amidst shattered glass and broken wood. He was rubbing his hands in the glass. Blood fr om his shredded hands was spreading across the floor. He had a little child’s shoe. He turned to us. I looked into his bloodshot eyes. He said, “this is where my son was martyred.” Imran was about to take a photograph of him, but he lowered the camera. We could not snap him in this position. We stood there for a while, we wanted to lift him up but the man wanted to stay with the memory of his child. Out side his door I saw a dog. It stood in front of us. It was a healthy black and white mongrel. It must once have been a loved pet. I can still see the dogs eyes, filled with unspeakable terror, asking me why? Why? Why? I did not know what to say to the creature. I did not know what had happened. Had I known, I would have sat down and told the dog, that this is the way those that rule, hide one crime by committing another.

Some people I talked to said they saw a missile cut through a buffalo’s stomach. I have found some of my notes from that time. Many people said that the police just ran off, even from major traffic junctions and students took over the posts, directing traffic.

… Some people at the time said they thought the day of judgement had arrived. I have found three eye witness accounts from that time. I only have their names and do not remember much more of them.

“I was going towards Faizabad when I heard the explosion. There was a huge fire. Many people were running towards it, while the police were running away from it. Missiles started flying in every direction. I saw about 12 young men sheltering under a tree. Then they were all dead. The road going towards the CDA (Capital Development Authority) colony was littered with hands and feet of little children. Such great injustice. The world seemed to have died. Whilst the police ran off, students started directing traffic.” Bagh Hussain.

“It was raining missiles and bombs. Everyone was running for their lives. The area was full of explosions and screaming. What the bombs did not destroy the police took.” Mohammad Ishaque.

“Four thousand have died. It was like Qiamat. Even when all hell was let loose, when bombs were spread around liked chopped pieces of wood, these people (pointing to policemen) were robbing – such injustice.”

I, too, was in Islamabad at the time and have vivid memories of the incident and its aftermath. I was driving in front of the Jinnah Super market in F-7 when panic started hitting Islamabad and cars started rushing every which way. I also turned back and rushed home. This was before the advent of the internet or he 24 hour news channels in Pakistan, so rumors ran amuck.

“It was a terrorist attack,” said some. “No,” said others, “its India, can’t you see the direction that the sound is coming from!” Others would chime in, “No, no, no. Its merely one more blast like the ones we are having every day.” Yet others saw ‘saahoni sazishian’ and ‘umreekan haath’ in all of this. And so it went on and on. The phone kept ringing. A friend who had a shell just land outside his gate. A relative, whose car was hit by another car which in turn had been hit by flying sharpnel.

By the end of the day clarity began to emerge. But not really.

It was clear, now, that it was Ojhri. That it was an ammunition dump. Everyone knew that this was related to the Afghanistan operation and ISI controlled the location. Soon, the politics also began becoming clear and before long Mohammed Khan Junejo was booted out. But that was the extent of it. Theories abound, but it remains unclear exactly what happened? Who did what? How? Why?

One would have thought that more would have come out on something this important and of this magnitude. It really has not. One must wonder, why?

P.S. In preparing this post I was also struck by how little there is on this over the internet. Especially in terms of photographic record. It may be because this was a pre-digital camera event. If any one has access or links to photographs of the outfall, please do share.

P.P.S. This is a repost of an original post published at ATP on this date in 2007.

57 responses to “Remembering the Ojhri Camp Blast”

  1. Some comments from the ATP Facebook Page:

    – “that was an international conspiracy…”
    – “I was in Islamabad when it happened and we thought India had attacked us. The first blast was so loud that we thought a bomb blast went in our drawing room, our windows shook terribly… and our house was near Margla hills, miles away from the blast! We heard the missiles flying over head, one landed in our front yard. It was chaos and it was just like a war zone. Once it was over and we went out of our house and drove around town, it was like war zone. You saw huge missiles stuck into the ground and strewn everywhere. There were people’s shoes and scarves and other things laying strewn around on the streets, when people closer to the blasts ran in panic. The school children ran around in panic and lot of children were lost some were kidnapped never to be found again and some lucky ones were re united with their parents. Our family friends lived near the blast site and they made it to our house bare feet, without duppata and only with the clothes on their backs. There were people killed sitting in their homes by direct hits.”
    – “It was raining missiles that day! And all this from our own weapons depot and not a foreign army attacking us.”
    – ” It wasn’t an international conspiracy. International people were coming for accounting of the weapons that were being given to Pakistan for the afghan war/ jihad and our Generals not wanting accounatbility blew up the weapons depot.”
    – “As many as 5000 people died that day?”
    – “THANX for this narration ….I am surprised that this “LIVE” media has no time to remember those fateful days ! I think if people got knowledge of what happened under the Dark blankets of Long dictatorships they never ever raise slogans in favor of any such Revolution(so called)”
    – “dictators, zia, mush have always caused immense long term damage to the country….”
    – “This ridiculous man (Zia) is responsible for the ojri camp blast”
    – “We r selfish & mean nation & we can gv our respect, loyalites for just 1 dollar.. shamefull nation…”
    – “Thnx for remembering these thing v being a Pakistani try to avoid these type of incidents next time.”
    – “Well!! it was deliberate fire started by ISI, under so called “Shaheed” Akhtar abdul rahman.Fire kept burning for three days before that fatefull day.US team was coming to do inventory check.Our Messiah generals had sold ammunition, esp Stinger missiles to Iran.They played old dirty trick, like our people play to get insurance, start arson.This was the most imp reason of Junejo dismissal.He wanted to make Gen Imran, corp comd pindi,be held accountable.”

  2. SA says:

    I was in Islamabad at that time, still going to school.. so not much of political awareness at that time
    we ran from school but there was no transport on the roads.. it took us more than 7-8 hours to reach home..
    .. i also remember hearing stories like “umreekie hath”, hanood ya yahood kie sazish…
    But after few years started realizing who was really responsible for such acts.. in fact who is responsible for most of the evils our nations has faced so far…

  3. Ohhh… I missed the postscript.

  4. Dear! Not 19 years ago but 23…

  5. Yaqoob says:

    Just read this as I was also realizing the Ojhri Camp date. Amazing how much we have forgotten. Even more than what we remember.

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