Gilgit-Baltistan: Emerging Patterns in GB

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By Shabbir Mir

Strikes and counter strikes along sectarian lines had what described GB politics in the recent past. The trend escalated especially after 2011-12 when passengers travelling by bus on the strategic Karakoram Highway between Gilgit and Rawalpindi were attacked and killed.
While the sectarian motivated murders strengthened the clergy, it widened the existing gap between Shiites and Sunnis. Subsequently, Gilgit city stood divided between the two sects, making life hell for the commoners.
But in 2014, G-B witnessed a change. Inhabitants of G-B set aside sectarian differences and waged a joint struggle for a common cause. That happened due to efforts from Awami Action Committee (AAC). Formed this year by a group of comparatively little known politicians, including advocate Ehsan Ali and Baba Jan, the AAC made ‘restoration of wheat subsidy’ the centre of its politics.
It was in 2013 when the prices of wheat began escalating. The regional government of G-B gradually started lifting the subsidy that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had sanctioned for the G-B at least four decades ago — sanctioning rampant poverty in the administrative region.
The subsidy withdrawal, however, proved to be a turning point in the region’s politics, with the AAC grabbing the opportunity with both hands. As part of its strategy, the AAC, instead of approaching top clerics and leaders, reached out to the second and third tiers of the leadership of religious and sectarian groups to beg their support before launching the mass movement. The response was incredible as within no time another 22 nationalists, sectarian and political groups joined it. The bitter enemies of the past became good friends overnight as frequent meetings for the cause brought them closer to each other.
In March, a delegation comprising top Shiite clerics, including senior vice president of Anjuman Imamia Muhammad Shafie was able to visit Chilas town. No wonder he got a rapturous welcome in the town defined by sectarian differences.
However, having said that, the real test for the AAC leadership will come if, God forbid, incidents like attacks on processions occur during religious months or passengers come under attack on highways yet again But if its leadership sustains these potential onslaughts and stands united, the future must belong to them no matter whether they win the elections or not.

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