Islamabad, Pakistan — On a bitterly chilly December morning at 10am, Shah Bulbul loaded his two suitcases on a bus, and, alongside along with his spouse, Bibi Roshan, and two youngsters Umaima and Arsalan, bid adieu to his hometown of Ghizer in northern Pakistan.
They had been about to undertake a 30-hour journey to Karachi, the nation’s largest metropolis located within the southern province of Sindh, with the hope of restarting their lives.
By the point it was night, an hour after the sundown, a drained Bulbul had dozed off, with five-year-old daughter Umaima in his lap, when he was jolted violently by his spouse, screaming at him.
“She yanked me up and our daughter and yelled at me to get down, get down,” Bulbul recalled. It was at that second, Bulbul mentioned, that he realised that the bus was underneath assault as he may hear a rattling burst of firing.
“My spouse, who was sitting by the window, had positioned our two-year-old boy Arsalan on the bus flooring and forcefully pushed me and Umaima underneath the seat, and shielded us by mendacity on prime of us. As I used to be struggling to make sense of what’s taking place, she instructed me she had been hit with bullets, and that I have to handle our kids.”
‘An hour from hell’
Bulbul and his household had been among the many 45 passengers of a transport bus that was focused by a bunch of attackers on December 2 in Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan, an autonomous area within the nation’s north close to the border with China.
The bus was making its manner down the Karakoram Freeway, the 1,300-km (807-mile) stretch of highway that connects Pakistan with China by means of the Karakoram Mountain vary, when it was attacked close to Chilas city.
The assault resulted within the deaths of at the very least 10 passengers, together with two troopers of the Pakistan military, whereas greater than two dozen individuals had been injured, together with Roshan, who regardless of being struck by six bullets, survived. The police are investigating the assault, however greater than per week later, no group has to this point claimed duty.
Reminiscing in regards to the assault, Bulbul termed it “an hour from hell”, saying he felt sure that his life was going to finish.
“It was pitch darkish. There was a barrage of bullets. Individuals behind our seat received hit. I used to be holding my youngsters tightly, as my spouse tried to defend us, regardless that she was bleeding profusely herself. Individuals had been shouting and moaning within the bus, screaming for assist,” Bulbul instructed Al Jazeera on Thursday night time.
When the firing began, the bus was on a steep highway, however as the driving force tried to hurry up the automobile, a slope got here which made it tough to regulate the automobile because it went uncontrolled, whereas the driving force additionally received shot.
“I used to be simply holding my breath, questioning if the bus will fall off the highway into the river, or it’ll flip over, after we hit one other automobile that was coming from the wrong way,” Bulbul recalled. “From the primary bullet fired until the bus stopped, all of it took lower than 10 minutes, but it surely felt like 10 centuries to me.”
With a historical past of sectarian violence within the Chilas area and different areas of Gilgit-Baltistan the place earlier assaults focused Shia Muslims, Bulbul mentioned he puzzled if the gunmen would enter the bus to complete off all people. The Gilgit-Baltistan area consists of roughly equal populations of Sunni and Shia Muslims, together with Ismailis, a Shia sub-sect, and Sunni armed teams have focused them previously. Bulbul and his household are Ismaili.
“Because the bus stopped, my spouse instructed me to take the youngsters out and stored asking me to handle them, to overlook about her and simply shield the youngsters. She simply repeatedly mentioned don’t fear if she dies, simply take care of the youngsters,” he mentioned.
Carrying his two youngsters in his arms, a petrified Bulbul tried to get off the bus. He noticed individuals falling off their seats, with a few of them lifeless, and others calling for assist.
‘An opportunity at second life’
With cell connectivity extraordinarily tough within the mountainous area, Bulbul mentioned they had been fortunate that there have been some locals who had heard the firing, and arrived on the scene and introduced some assist.
Bulbul mentioned his household and another injured had been taken to a close-by hospital in Chilas city in a van, located half an hour away, the place the medical doctors knowledgeable him that Roshan was hit with six bullets on her again and the hospital didn’t have the required quantity of blood that matched her blood group.
“I name it a stroke of luck that considered one of our kinfolk works as nurse within the hospital,” Bulbul mentioned. “It was she who managed to rearrange some blood by some means.” Docs carried out an emergency operation and his spouse’s life was saved.
Bulbul and his household ultimately left for Gilgit, the principle metropolis of the Gilgit-Baltistan area located roughly three hours away from Chilas, the place his spouse was operated upon a second time on Tuesday.
“The second surgical procedure lasted 5 hours. The medical doctors mentioned her inside organs had been mildly broken whereas her ribs had been damaged as effectively. She nonetheless has three bullets in her backbone,” he mentioned.
The 35-year-old Bulbul used to run a grocery store in his hometown of Ghizer, the place he lived along with his household.
Nevertheless, he mentioned, the nation’s faltering financial system and rising inflation meant it was laborious to help his household of 4, in addition to his mother and father and siblings, on the earnings from his small-town store.
Roshan’s mother and father stay in Karachi. “They requested us to relocate there and that they’ll assist me discover a job. So, we determined to pack up our lives right here,” Bulbul mentioned.
That they had by no means imagined their journey would flip right into a determined survival battle. Now, Bulbul mentioned, he feels blessed to be alive.
“This can be a miracle. After I was on the ground of the bus with firing occurring, I used to be simply ready for my flip to die,” he mentioned. “I puzzled if I might get hit first, or my youngsters, and if each my spouse and I die, who would take care of them. However God has given our household one other likelihood at life, due to my spouse’s bravery and braveness.”