“Allah-u-Akbar! God is Great!”
Some pictures still shock me. Some make me laugh; many provide an insight or window into a new idea but only a few haunt me with my mind’s eye returning to them again and again.
On Wednesday 28th July an Airblue plane crashed just outside Islamabad in the beauty spot of the Margalla Hills killing all 152 on board. The cause of the crash, as yet unconfirmed, is thought to have been the driving monsoon rain. I edited the pictures shot by Reuters photographers who reached the scene. Images ranging from smoke drifting through the hills, men scrambling in the charred rocky, woodlands, picking through twisted metal and rocks looking for signs of life; tied cloth bags, dripping with the blood that contained the remains of the passengers, to a severed arm and hand, the fingers still perfectly formed, just lying on the ground. There were no survivors.
Policemen and soldiers raise their hands while shouting “God is great,” to lift their spirits as the team worked through heavy rain to search for bodies and a flight data recorder at the site of the Airblue plane crash in Islamabad’s Margalla Hills July 29, 2010. Heavy monsoon rains in Islamabad on Thursday hampered recovery efforts at the site of a Pakistani plane crash that killed all 152 people on board a day earlier, a senior police officer said. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
The next day, as relatives identified and claimed the broken bodies of their loved ones, the search continued for the black box and for more human remains. Pakistan Chief Photographer Adrees Latif returned to the miserable scene. Police, ill dressed for the appalling weather, soaked to the skin and cold, were carrying out the thankless task of the fingertip search in the charred and soaked scene. Suddenly a shout ”Allah-u-Akbar! Allah-u-Akbar!” God is Great, the officer in charge both recognising fate and trying to raise the spirits of his men. The moment captured by Adrees, their belief in God transcending the misery and seemingly hopelessness of their task, the image and their unfaltering faith, left forever in my mind.
As the week continued driving monsoon rains led to rising flood waters, the worse seen in a generation, taking the lives of an estimated 1100 people with a million displaced from their homes. The “death mask” of cream worn a boy sitting in the flood waters shot by Akhtar Soomro in Karachi seemed to me to herald the coming deaths.
A boy uses cream on his face as he sits in rain water on the street of Karachi July 27, 2010. Monsoon rains continued in different parts of the country on Tuesday, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department’s website. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
Today, as the waters recede and the death toll doubtlessly rises, life will start to return to normal as the survivors and relatives of those who died in the disasters of last week try to piece together their lives. The pictures and the cry “Allah-u-Akbar” will always be in my mind and will always remain to temper any preconceptions I may have in the future about this troubled country. Maybe it’s just too much to hope that these images will have the same impact on others.
Residents carry the draped body of a suicide bomb victim to his grave in Pabbi, east of Peshawar July 26, 2010. A suicide bomber in Pakistan killed at least eight people and wounded 20 in a blast near the house of a provincial minister who has repeatedly spoken out against the Taliban, police said on Monday. REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz
Rescue workers search the wreckage at the site of the crash of an Airblue passenger plane on the outskirts of Islamabad July 28, 2010. A Pakistani passenger plane crashed in heavy rain near Islamabad on Wednesday, killing all 152 people on board, officials said, in the worst aviation accident in Pakistan.
A family member of an Airblue plane crash victim weeps after recovering the body at a hospital in Islamabad July 29, 2010. The Pakistani passenger plane, an Airbus 321 belonging to a private airline, crashed in heavy rain near Islamabad on Wednesday, killing all 152 people on board, officials said, in the worst aviation accident in Pakistan. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Elderly men wade past a stranded vehicle and a mosque while evacuating the flooded town of Nowshera, located in Pakistan’s northwest Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province August 1, 2010. Pakistan newspapers sourced the death toll from the worst floods in living memory to about 900 while reporting outbreaks of waterborne disease. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
Residents and vehicles move along the main road through Nowshera after flood waters receded in Pakistan’s northwest Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province August 1, 2010. Floods caused by a week of heavy rain have killed more than 1,000 people in Pakistan’s northwest and rescuers battled on Sunday to distribute relief to tens of thousands of trapped people. REUTERS/Adrees Latif