What happened at OJHRI CAMP in Rawalpindi in 1988.

“Ojhri” is the beef stomach which is cooked in the form of a very spicy and delicious curry in Pakistan and India. The prepared dish looks like this. However this ‘Ojhri’ camp we are talking about was an ammunition depot in Pakistan.

Ojhri Camp was a large ammunition depot of Pakistan army located in Rawalpindi / Islamabad, Pakistan. It was used as an ammunition depot for Afghan Mujahedeen fighting against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. Those were the days when CIA and America loved Islamic Jihad and Mujahideen as they gave their lives in the battle fields of Afghanistan. Soviet Russia‘s last strong hold was crumbling fast due to the impact of these Mujahedeens., and bulk of them were recruited, trained and dispatched by the famous ISI and Pakistan army. American paid them handsomely and supplied them with the latest arsenal which was distributed to them by ISI. The army officer in-charge of all this was General Akhtar Abdul Rehman who got killed in the plane crash along with Zia ul Haq.
The camp exploded on April 10, 1988, killing more than 4,000 people in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.There was speculation that the explosion was done by Pakistani agents to cover up a pilferage of the weapons stocks, including Stinger missiles. But as usual the matter was swept under the carpet by the then president, General Zia ul Haq; as fingers were being pointed at their money making operations through illicit arms deals. Zia himself and his cronies amassed millions of dollars which are still being used by their families. Recently a veteran politician, Kalsoom Saifullah has written a book in which she has told the Pakistani people that it was none other than Zia ul Haq himself who ordered the explosion to be carried out so that the threat of American checking of stinger missiles could be averted. This book is published in September 2011 in Pakistan.

On April 10, 1988 Pakistan was in the iron fist of a military dictator, General Zia ul Haq who came to power after sacking the elected prime minister, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. He later hanged him through a very dubious court proceedings and it has since been termed as the ‘judicial murder’ of Z. A. Bhutto. This was another dark period of military rule in Pakistan. A time when the military rulers danced to American tunes. This was not the era of ‘Enlightened Moderation’, but that of militant jihad-ism acceptable to the Americans. This was the era of General Zia’s Raj. This was a time when Pakistan was once again a ‘Front Line state’ and the West, particularly America and its allies were supporting the Mujahidin groups, and when of course Osama Bin Laden America’s most favorite freedom fighter was leading the Western inspired Jihad against the Soviets. Hundreds of millions of dollars were given to the Pakistani military to manage the Jihad in Afghanistan, and hundreds of millions of dollars was also spent on providing weapons and logistical support for the Mujahid groups through Pakistan. Who then were of course the sacred, adored, ‘freedom fighters’ and NOT the terrorists (as they are hatefully called today by America).

The weapons stored at OJHRI camp were sent mainly by Americana, but also, by other allies of the US, including Britain. They were shipped to Karachi and from there taken towards North of Pakistan where vicinity of Afghan border was the biggest consideration in storing them. One of the biggest central dumps was Ojhri. This dump was directly controlled by the ISI. It was an open secret that the ISI was not even answerable to the GHQ in Rawalpindi, but directly to General Zia himself.

One of the most important political fall out of this incidence was sacking of the then prime minister Mohammad Khan Junejo, a handpicked, docile politician from Sindh; by General Zia himself. The government of prime minister Muhammad Khan Junejo, installed by General Zia, was dismissed shortly after the Ojhri camp blasts and the newspapers said that an inquiry report by Junejo’s government was the reason for the dismissal.

On April 10, 1988, over one million citizens of the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad stared death in the eye. A blast in the ammunition depot of Ojhri camp wrecked havoc as shells and rockets of various shapes and sizes started raining over a radius of ten miles.Thousands perished and many more were wounded. There has been no accepted statistical data available to date but a careful account put the figure of deaths close to 4000.

The first reaction of many citizens was that India had attacked. This was during the height of the Afghan conflict, with Pakistan about to sign the Geneva accords four days later. Others argued that the Soviets had attacked Pakistan to teach her a lesson. Two committees were formed by the government to look into the affair. The first was the military committee headed by a serving General. This committee’s findings and recommendations were ignored since it called for the removal of General Zia’s right hand man, General Akhtar Abdul Rehman, along with other senior military officials. Its report, presented within one week of the incident, was rejected. Another more interesting committee was the one set up by prime minister Muhammad Khan Junejo.This was a political committee headed by a Cabinet minister and comprised of four federal ministers. Controversy surrounded the findings of this committee. The members could not reach a consensus on who was responsible for the Ojhri tragedy. In his remarks, the head of the committee, Aslam Khattak concluded, “No one was responsible. It was an act of Allah.’

News clipping found on October 2017:

A Mirza Imran Ahsan Karim wrote in the Express Tribune, Pakistan, about the eventful day and here is his narration:

Twenty-five years ago, on April 10, 1988, we were sitting in a classroom at Islamabad Model School, F-7/3, when we heard a loud blast. The blast shattered several windows of the school building and we were immediately evacuated. A huge mushroom cloud appeared over the horizon far off in the rough direction of Rawalpindi, a couple of dozen kilometres away. Our biology teacher, Mr Abdus Sami, a very intelligent person, saw this and told us that most likely a known weapons depot in Rawalpindi had exploded at Ojhri Camp. This was quite a remarkable guess as everyone else was talking about the possibility of some sort of an attack by India or even the Soviet Union.

Later that day, we heard stories of missiles flying all over the twin cities. Newspapers and the television reported that nearly 300,000 rockets and some kind of self-igniting phosphorus-fuelled missile had launched by themselves after a massive explosion, in which hundreds of trucks at the Ojhri Camp site were decimated. It was a one of a kind event during the last days of General Ziaul Haq’s rule. The then prime minister, Muhammad Khan Junejo, subtly blamed General Zia for this tragedy, something which contributed to his government’s dismissal soon after.

My father, who worked at a Rawalpindi college at the time, returned home that afternoon carrying a couple of spent rockets and a small missile. We still have the missile in our house as a souvenir.

In the incident at Ojhri Camp, hundreds of people must have perished but due to the dictatorial regime we were living under at the time, we only knew what PTV told us — with the truth about the purpose of having such a huge weapons depot inside a major city being kept a secret. The missiles destroyed property all across the twin cities. People were given inadequate compensation for the damages; for instance, a person whose roof had partially collapsed in our neighborhood in G-9/1 was offered Rs38 as compensation.

The culture of shoving everything that implicates the establishment in displaying incompetency under the carpet is still prevalent. We have a long way to go to change this culture. I expected that our free media would have covered some aspects of this dreadful event on its 25th anniversary and throw light on the lessons learnt but I have not seen any significant coverage regarding the event.

Mirza Imran Ahsan Karim

Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2013. 

Published by Dr. Afaq Ahmad Qureshi

Physician, writer, broadcaster, journalist, translator, free lance writer, poet, political and social analyst and critic. Writes plays and features for electronic media, interested in numerous things from sociology to medicine to history and art. interest in books and internet, writes for http://www.blogcritic.com also; editor for an internet journal; at http://twitter.com/dr_afaqaq.

19 thoughts on “What happened at OJHRI CAMP in Rawalpindi in 1988.

  1. I am an eye witness to this disaster from my college ground, me and my 3 friends were sitting on grassy field when we saw the thick smoke building quite high in the atmosphere in the heart of Murree road, which initially looked like a smoke from massive fire. But flying rocket likes objects were visible in the smoke. We informed the office staff and left college, news was already spread that an ammunition depot has set rockets off, reason was an explosion in the depot. One of my friend’s was picked up by her brother, other two travelled in a taxi with me to my father’s office. I prayed all the way for my father’s office building to be safe. Other friend took a van from Saddar to her home in Peshawar road. 3rd friend was dropped off by me and my father in Dheri Hassan abad where she lived with her parents. We checked on all of them from my father’s office first and the from home if they were all okay and safe.
    I gave my review to PTV in the college too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I m sudent.
    When that happened,my father was in that area.He tell me about this happening.I feel so pain but it is a bitter reality.
    My pray
    long live PAKISTAN

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The best thing about Ajit Devil Doval is that of plausible deniability. Ojhri was one of his first successes as India’s top spy. Pakistan could never ever concede then that the Indians were behind this or even capable of infiltrating to this extent, but that is the best thing from Indian perspective as that would have started a reprisal cycle.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mian Nawaz Sharif, after getting disqualification certificate from supreme court of Pakistan is saying to all politician of Pakistan, THAT:::
    “”jalte ghar ko dekhne vaalo, phuus ka chhappar aapkaa hai,
    aag ke piichhe tez havaa , aage muqaddar aapka hai.
    uske qatal pe main bhii chup thaa, meri baari ab aaee,
    mere qatal pe aap bhii chup ho, aglaa number aapka hai !!!””


  5. Very good article, remind me, my first day of BA Part one class, we heard same thing in college, that India has attached on Kahuta Plant.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A Jack of all trades is a master of none.His article lacks evidence and substance. The US had a very meticulous and discrete system of system of accounting for Stingers and the US consulate at Peshawar was keeping a track of each and every piece that they had supplied and notably only a handful of these were supplied and later each and every piece retrieved even from Afghanistan, otherwise any surviving Stinger could have played a havoc with the ISAF Forces. The major component of ammunition was 122 mm MBRL rockets which fortunately did not have fuzes assembled with them and consequently only caused fire wherever they landed or in case of direct impact injury/ death. It was one of such rockets which landed on the car of and caused the death of Mr Khaqan Abbasi , during Ohjeri Camp military depot explosion on April 10, 1988.
    These rockets “Not an American ammunition ” ( may be confirmed from google) , have solid propellant rocket motors which when ignited made the rockets to take off in the direction that they were facing. They landed on terminal phase of their haphazard trajectories in the surrounding areas and caused fires and impact injuries / death. There was not a single case of a detonation initiated by a fuze other wise the fragmentation and consequent splintering would have caused in numerable deaths.
    Ojhri Camp was a temporary storage site of ammunition and at such sites ammunition is stored in the open.Open storage is a common practice all over the world since proper igloos are made for permanent storage. The accident possibly occurred due to fire in one of the vehicles which was being loaded, Such unfortunate incidents happen all over the world including India. ( Please see Ammunition fires at Panagarh and also in Jammu Ammunition Depot.
    The worthy medical doctor who authored this article had no idea of the difference between a detonation and an explosion otherwise he would have been careful in commenting blindly.
    It is very easy to comment blindly but painstakingly difficult to research the various elements that contribute to an incident.
    A attempt to create a very negative perception has been made to make believe that a cover up of pilferage of ammunition was a cause of the explosion . It has been now over twenty seven years and a number of different governments but not a single round of the allegedly pilfered ammunition ammunition has been found or recovered!!!!
    One of the essential trait of a credible writer is that he never violates integrity whereas this article speaks otherwise.
    I am sure if this medical doctor had done justice to his own profession he could have done some service to humanity.

    Liked by 1 person

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