KOHISTAN / GILGIT (ET): The death toll from bloody clashes between residents of Gilgit-Baltistan and Kohistan district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa over a territorial border dispute has risen to seven with over a dozen more injured. The clashes erupted on Wednesday when residents from both regions took up arms against each other over a swath of land near the site of Diamer-Bhasha Dam.
The nearly 10-kilometre stretch of land on both sides of the Basari check post, which separates Kohistan from Gilgit-Baltistan, has long been a bone of contention between Diamer and Kohistan. The disputed land is among the areas being demarcated for acquisition for the much-awaited Diamer-Bhasha dam project.
“The total number of casualties is four,” Diamer Deputy Commissioner Shahbaz Bhatti told The Express Tribune. “But the situation is under control as warring groups have descended the mountains.”
However, DPO Kohistan Akbar Ali Khan confirmed the death of three more people from his area.
The boundary issue flared up a week earlier when villagers from Harban Nala, Kohistan, reported that some goats of farmers belonging to the Thor area, Diamer district, went missing from the disputed territory. The goats were grazing on the land that both regions claim. The farmers accused Kohistanis of forcibly herding away 400 goats.
A police official, requesting anonymity, said the Kohistanis had forcibly taken away the goats from the G-B side last week and warned that they would seize more of their cattle if they did not desist from grazing their goats on the disputed territory.
People in Chilas, G-B, blocked the Karakoram Highway in protest and registered a case with the local police station against the theft.
Angered by the incident and vowing to defend their land, armed residents from the Thor valley took positions in the mountains. A similar situation was witnessed in Harban as people took up arms there as well. According to Diamer residents, both the parties exchanged fire Wednesday night.
According to other accounts, at least 15 people have gone missing since the clashes. However, the veracity of this claim could not be verified.
“It’s more than a four-hour trek up to the place where the shooting took place. We will have more information once people return to the town,” said Mujeebur Rehman, a Chilas-based journalist. A jirga comprising clerics and politicians have reached Harban Valley to pacify the enraged men.
While the issue was referred to a boundary commission for permanent settlement, Rangers have been deployed in the disputed territory to defuse the tension until the commission reaches a decision. However, the commission has reportedly failed to convene even a single meeting.
Kohistanis claim that the land belonged to them according to the official records of 1955, but the protesters from Diamer insist that they have owned the land for generations.