Gilgit-Baltistan:GB ablaze with sectarianism

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By DJ Mathal

A superficial calmness seems to be prevailing in Gilgit Baltistan for now. There is, however, lava boiling beneath the surface. Long since, the rulers sitting in Islamabad have controlled the region, plundered its resources and enjoyed ruling the locals; they did more to divide the masses than to bring any peace and prosperity. As a result, today the people of the whole region seem to be pitched against each other’s and apparently look blood-thirsty.

Each group is staging sit-ins with demands which are hardly possible to be fulfilled. It may be noted that the seed of sectarianism was sowed in the region in the 1970s which has now become a giant tree. The roots of this tree are soaked in the blood of hundreds of innocent people and the sapling is protected by thousands, eager to behead anyone who attempts to harm the tree.

Those who solely blame Zia’s dictatorship to emanate the scourge of sectarianism in the region forget the fact that it was initiated during the tenure of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto when he was Prime Minister in 1970s. They also overlook the fact that the number of people killed due to the Shia-Sunni strife also reached an unprecedented record during the current tenure of the PPP.

Besides, nobody has taken notice of the fact that since 1970, arms and ammunition have been coming to the region. Such arms are not small-scale arms but the ones which are normally used by military in wars against their enemies. At present, the situation is such that arms and ammunition worth billions of rupees have been stored in the Gilgit city and its adjoining areas. Where are these lethal weapons coming from? Certainly, they are not manufactured locally. They make their way into the volatile region from neighboring Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. It is also intriguing why hundreds of security checks posts, established all along the routes evading to Gilgit-Baltistan, cannot check the supply of these illegal arms and ammunition to the region.

It is alleged that security agencies are behind the supply of these weapons into the region so that they can be used by the bandits in the killing of innocent people in the name of sectarianism. While the people of the region remained as silent spectator to all the conspiracies, their enemies succeeded in stoking the scourge of sectarian hatred. Today this menace has reached almost all parts of the region from the Gilgit city. What to say of the schism and lack of trust between geographic regions such as Astore, Nagar or Baltistan, when members of the provincial cabinet are pointing fingers at each other for backing different sectarian groups.

What are the reasons the scourge of sectarianism is not being checked in Gilgit-Baltistan when its stronghold in Jhang in the province of Punjab has been clear of the problem. It seems that no one is serious in maintaining peace in Gilgit Baltistan. The people of Gilgit Baltistan have been complaining that under a conspiracy they are being pitched against each other. But it is very strange and intriguing too that despite knowing the conspiracies very well, the masses in the region have done nothing against the issue and have become part of it. Even the local sectarian groups have done more harm to the peace and tranquility of the region than the establishment and security agencies of Pakistan. Many ministers in the province are complaining that under a well-hatched conspiracy, law and order situation is being created in the region.

Also, it was for the first time that members of a particular religious group were targeted and killed on the Karakoram Highway. But one can ask the ministers and other authorities why they remain a silent spectator to the gory incidents even knowing well who are behind all these incidents. What happened on April 3, was not a spontaneous incident rather an environment had been prepared for it for the last about two years or so. The so-called chief minister had been seeing all the drama happening in front of his eyes but he adopted an ostrich-like attitude in the wild hope that the situation would normalize by itself.

The chief minister even did not bother to implement the recommendations of an all-party conference, peace committee and various Jirgas to maintain peace in the region and after that if someone was hoping that there would be peace in the region was perhaps living in the fools’ paradise. It is a fact that Mehdi Shah has no interest in restoring peace in Gilgit Baltistan but where he will go now when the fire from which he used to flee has reached his own hometown. It is embarrassing that when Gilgit Baltistan was burning in sectarian fire and innocent people were falling to the bullets of the terror elements the chief minister considered it important to leave the region and visit Garhi Khudabakhsh to offer fateha at the tomb of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

If there was any iota of expectation among the people of Gilgit Baltistan regarding the chief minister, it vanished into the murky air that day of April 3. For the last about three years since he came to power in the region, he has utterly failed to implement even a single announcement made to improve the law and order situation in the region. The time is running out of the rulers very fast. It is need of the time that the government, as a first priority, should bring to books all those behind the killing of innocent people on April 3 even if it has to use the army to arrest the culprits. Unfortunately, it seems that the government has learnt no lesson from the Kohistan tragedy and did nothing to avoid such happenings in future.

It is the right of every citizen to feel safe wherever he goes irrespective of his religious affiliation. But what is happening is tragic. People are being hauled off from transport buses and brutally killed only because of their names sounding a particular religious sect. If we have reached such an impasse where does civilization stand to protect humanity?

The writer is Chief Editor of Bang-E-Sahar and belongs to Yasin Valley of Ghizar.

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