The tragic accident on National Highway near Bahawalpur in the early hours of Sunday, a day before Eidul Fitr, where an oil tanker overturned due to a burst tyre causing spillage of fuel on the adjacent fields, was as untimely as it was avoidable. Ironically, the stream of spilled oil proved to be a stream of tears and grief.

A large number of people from nearby villages rushed to the site to collect fuel in whatever utensils they could lay their hands on. Motorcyclists and even cars passing by stopped to dip their hands in the loot sale. The extent of their enthusiasm was such that even their clothes were drenched in petrol and they probably never realised that the fallen tanker by now had become a ticking time bomb. According to eye witnesses, a lit cigarette unfortunately led to the explosion followed by a wildfire which was fed by 25,000 liters of tanker fuel. This resulted in approximately 150 bodies being charred beyond recognition and injured at least another 200.

Who could have perceived that a burst oil tanker tyre would unchain a sequence of events setting the stage for one of the most heart-rending tragedies in recent years in Pakistan. This incident has sparked a new debate as to what led such a huge number of individuals to make a suicidal run. Was it an imbalance in our socioeconomic setup or did social and moral plagues like poverty and greed over power wisdom or will lack of education be made an alibi this time again? May be all or none of the above are to be blamed but what is certain is that we as a nation are weak when it comes to exhibiting a strong character.

In any society the character building process starts from homes followed later in life by schools and universities but in case of southern Punjab, where the harrowing oil tanker incident took place, the literacy rate is abysmally low and those who lost their lives mostly belonged to the lower strata of the society virtually having no exposure to educational institutions.

Then who is to be held responsible for this carnage? While there could be many reasons for this national tragedy as mentioned above, the major chunk of the blame rests on the shoulders of the civil administration who once again have failed to foresee a preventable disaster after reports of an overturned oil tanker poured in. Had they taken measures like cordoning off the area, providing better emergency management facilities and cautioning people not to ignite any matchstick or cigarette at the spillage site this disaster could have been well avoided.

This whole saga has yet again unmasked the inherent weaknesses in our judicial and accountability process wherein those held responsible, like the powerful Quetta legislator who crushed the on duty police sergeant under his vehicle in broad daylight, go escort free rendering all the post-disaster inquiries useless.

To safeguard similar events from happening in the future the government should uplift the rural settings of the country by providing the underprivileged inhabitants with better opportunities to seek basic education thus improving their general awareness.

My heart goes out to the passing by traffic that got caught – they were truly innocent.