[The NEWS] Sectarian violence in Gilgit-Baltistan

Aziz Ali Dad

For the last one decade Pakistan has been facing the worst kind of law and order. From Fata to Karachi, Pakistan has been constantly embroiled in conflicts that have created quasi civil warlike situations. Although, the region of Gilgit-Baltistan has remained immune from Islamists’ militancy, ethnic violence and nationalist insurgency, it has suffered from sectarian violence for last two decades.

Recently, Gilgit city and its suburbs have seen a new element of violence in the shape of target killings. Given the scale of violence and terrorism at the national level, it is difficult for Gilgit to be in the limelight of print and electronic media. And though in terms of the number of causalities it seems less in intensity, its repercussions on the overall social fabric are deeper.

Gilgit city is situated in a very important geo-strategic location as it connects different valleys and functions as a gateway to China. Because of its geo-strategic location Gilgit has historically remained vulnerable to various invasions and geo-political changes in surrounding polities. The sectarian violence in Gilgit is a result of a long historical process wherein the society gradually lost its traditional base of kinship and exposed to new mode of governance and social arrangements through modern institutions in colonial and post-colonial periods.

Disintegration of the traditional social order resulted in an identity crisis at the collective level. In the absence of a traditional set up of society and empowered institutions, people resorted to religion to establish a collective identity. While doing so the people severed connections with those elements of culture that do not fit within the mould of modern religious identities at the collective level. The rupture with traditional governance, social arrangements, kinship base and culture appears in the shape of enmity within people from same linguistic, racial and tribal groups during sectarian strife.

While Gilgiti society was experiencing social disintegration, the rulers of the country subjected Gilgit-Baltistan to various experiments of governance. With every new experiment the scourge of sectarian violence only got stronger because modern institutions were not empowered. It was a kinship based relationship that had enabled people to live together despite sectarian clashes since 1988.

But the pluralist nature of society became the first casualty after January 2005 when violent events forced people to migrate from their ancestral abodes to the areas which are dominated by their sect. The situation has further aggravated with the increase in target killings in Gilgit, which have virtually turned Gilgit into a ‘no go’ area. Every week several people fall prey to the spate of target killings. Because of this the residential, commercial areas, hotels, offices and educational institutions have been divided along sectarian lines.

The very term ‘target killing’ is employed in legal jargon because it is different from other kinds of murder in nature. This term is a new entry into the repertoire of violent vocabulary employed by the local people. Target killing is a convenient term to brush every kind of murder under the rubric sectarian strife.

In Gilgit this term is used to refer to assassination on sectarian basis. In order to stem sectarian violence, it is indispensible to decouple the term target killing from other kinds of murder. Vocabulary with sectarian and violent connotation paves the way for violent mentality. Tacit acceptance of violent nomenclature by the society contributes to sectarian mentality and violence.

Ironically, the local police has also found target killing a useful term to shirk from its duty of ascertaining the nature of every murder and tends to dub every murder as a target killing. Our nation has an uncanny talent to cast the state of the art technology within its idiosyncratic mould. Recently, the local police has proudly announced the instalment of CCTV cameras in Gilgit city.

The people of Gilgit hardly get three hours of electricity during the harsh winter season. One wonders how the police will manage to get information about murderers during the long hours of loadshedding. It is obvious that it will be impossible to provide 24 hour surveillance and the perpetrators will have a field day right under these expensive cameras. When the minds and eyes of law fail to comprehend the nature of crime and apprehend the culprits, then it is difficult to believe that the CCTV cameras will be successful.

The above-mentioned facts show a pattern of the lame excuses presented by the local administration to cover up its failure to control the deteriorating law and order situation in Gilgit. To make the local administration and police force more effective it is imperative to revisit tried and tested strategies and train police with modern techniques of investigation to ably deal with the changing nature of violence.

Tragically, in our country those who perpetrate violence update themselves with modern mechanics of violence as compared to the police that still relies upon outdated methods and approaches. The anachronistic approach at the structural level contributes to emboldening of violent elements in society and the failure of law enforcing agencies in the region.

The writer is a social scientist based in Islamabad. Email: azizalidad@hotmail.com

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