I looked around, trying to locate the uniquely shaped creature I had seen in my picture books. Dad repeated, “Duck! Get down,” and threw me into the back seat of the car. I remember people running on the edge of the park near where the car was parked. I’m not sure if I remember the explosions. I was three; “Duck!” my first memory.

The details came over twenty years later, finding out what Dad remembered. By then I knew what had happened, generally speaking. Dad’s not normally the best at remembering details, but he remembered a great deal about April 10, 1988. Almost like how his parents remember November 22, 1963, and my generation remembers September 11, 2001.

He stood in line with me at the post office, my one-year-old sister in his arms. He had both of us, an odd situation. Mom was at a women’s retreat in Abbottabad, three hours away by vehicle. She was safe. He remembers a commotion, a loud noise or explosion outside of the post office. Men scurried out of line and into the street. There was an explosion 50 yards away, and Dad hurried to get us both in the car. Men ran everywhere, unsure what was happening. Dad saw a mushroom cloud, hundreds of feet high, looming in the direction of the airport.

Dad’s first thought was that India was attacking, or Israel. India had been our arch enemy for so long, we had already fought three wars against them. Israel was less likely, but constantly mentioned in incessant conspiracy theories. We were in the capital, not even 200 miles from the border with India. A short enough distance for bombs to drop.

There were no cell phones, hardly any communication available at all. Dad’s first thought was to head northwest, to the Margalla Hills. We would be out of range of the bombing, safely hidden while Islamabad was destroyed. Dad remembered that there was another American who lived on the way to the hills – he would know what was happening, and what to do. As we drove another missile landed 100 feet away. There was a whine and a flash, a cloud of dirt and dust but no explosion. Once there Dad was able to speak with Mom, or at least receive confirmation that she was safe.

I’m not sure how long it was until we returned home to Satellite Town, Rawalpindi. Explosions kept going off, still no one was sure what was happening. When we did return home, the quarter-inch deadbolt on the front of our door was bent out of shape. Some windows had been blown out. There was an unexploded missile at the end of our street. I remember walking to see it; by the time we returned with a camera it had been removed.

Bombs went off for a day or two, with missiles falling from the sky at random. Fortunately most of them were not armed. If they had been the death toll would have been catastrophic as the combined population of the twin cities was more than one million in 1988. Official newspaper reports say that 70-110 people were killed, with over 800 injured. Unofficial reports, those more prone to conspiracy theories, list the dead at 4,000-5,000 (Wikipedia says there were 1,300 deaths). A family friend of ours had been standing on the roof of his house when a missile hit the wall beneath him, collapsing the entire structure. He and his family were spared.

An ammunition dump in Rawalpindi, near the airport, had been the cause. Arms given to Pakistan, most likely by the United States to aid the Mujahideen in their efforts to fight the Russians in Afghanistan before the rise of the Taliban. Conspiracy theories abounded, with some saying that Russia, Pakistani agents, or General Zia were behind the attack. My parents had always said it was a hot day, and a truck fire on top of the dump had set off a chain reaction. However it started, once the ammunition dump caught fire it sent ordinance into the air at an alarming rate, raining explosives on Rawalpindi and Islamabad, including near the post office.

It’s strange how little I can remember from my childhood, whether in Pakistan or in America. But key details of that day stand out, most markedly being that I learned an alternate meaning of the word “duck.”


Ojhri Ammunition Dump Explosion Links

NY Times
Associated Press
Lewiston Daily Sun


  1. Very well written. My memory of that day is hiding under the coffee table at my “Dada and Nani’s” house. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to reading more.

  2. Very interesting – the American’s house we went to was your grandpa’s! I don’t remember a thing about that, but you must have been there at the time. I don’t believe we stayed all that long, but I could be wrong. How much do you remember beyond that?

  3. Last year, while having tea and chatting with two Pakistanis, one being my husband and the other a dear friend, I heard about this accident and each of their first hand accounts! Simply astonishing, both because it happened and because in America we new nothing about it!

  4. I used to live in Rawalpindi when this happened. However, I was in Lahore that day and remember hearing about it in the news. I do not recall anyone I know get hurt in those explosions. I was actually quite disappointing to come back to pindi after a few days and finding no bombs any where.

    I am glad there were no nuclear weapons there.

    It seems like we avoided one such incident during Cold War when a nuke almost exploded in North Carolina when a B-52 bomber broke apart over North Carolina in 1961, dropping a nuclear bomb. Only a low-voltage switch kept it from exploding.

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