Sat. Apr 10th, 2021

A call for peace and rule of law

Leadership of the Shia community in Gilgit on Friday announced resumption of protests, to push the government for acceptance of demands, presented in the form of a charter shortly after the 28th February massacre of 16 Shia passengers in Kohistan area. The terrorist act has been condemned by all sects living in Gilgit – Baltistan and protest demonstrations have been held in all seven districts of the region to demand arrest of the culprits.

The Anjuman-e-Imamia, organization of the Shia community, along with several other organizations, had given seven days to the government for implementation of the charter of demands, to which the GB government and the federal interior minister, Rehman Malik, had agreed.

Two major demands present in the charter related to arresting of the terrorists involved and provision of compensation to families of the victims and survivors. Other demands related to enhancement of security along the KKH and clarification of the constitutional status of Gilgit – Baltistan, among others.

The government has, sadly, failed to fulfill almost all of the demands, except for enhancement of security along the KKH, which seems less in these tense times, when the sense of insecurity is very high.

Federal Interior Minister on late Friday night called Agha Rahat, leader of the Shia community of Gilgit, to inform him about detention of five terrorists allegedly involved in the carnage. This call was, however, too late because announcements for resumption of mass protests had already been made during the Friday congregation.

The announcement for resumption of protests and sit-ins has gripped the region in fear of the unknown. Ordinary people had seen a respite of relief after almost 8 days, but it proved to be short lived. The environment is currently charged and there seems to be a massive support for the protest movement, as is evident by the people’s compliance with the call for chanting of slogans, a symbolic beginning of the “protest movement”. last night.

In this situation, the government needs to come up with concrete steps to assure the general public and the leaders of the Shia community that their demands are being taken seriously and steps are being taken to meet them. The assurance given by Rehman Malik today in a telephonic call is a good sign but we feel that at least the monetary compensation announced by the Federal Interior Minister and GB Chief Minister could have been arranged in the eight days available. The compensation may never be a replacement for justice, but at least that could have given some hope to the grieved people that their demands are being met.

If some demands need more time, it should be clearly told to the leaders and the the masses should be taken into confidence. Silence, delays and ambiguity are bound to reflect negatively in these tense times. Experts and analysts on different media channels and in published articles had expressed the fear that the government may not be able to arrest the culprits in the given time, because the region’s terrain is rugged and apparently very sluggish efforts were made for quick launching of a search operation in the region.

The grievances of the Shia community are understandable because the terrorist have shown that they can execute anyone at their will. The sense of insecurity has quadrupled in the region and there is bound to be some reaction and expression of frustration, anger and grief, at the level of the masses. The ideal situation, in this scenario, would be to request the Shia leaders to keep the protest movement exemplary peaceful and objectively focused, within the bounds of law and requirements of justice.

The whole community of Gilgit – Baltistan, in words and deeds, has expressed sympathy with the grieved families and this sense of unity in the times of distress shall pave ways for forging alliances against injustice and lawlessness. A wise decision by the residents of Nagar valley has won them accolades globally. That exemplary spirit of justice, compassion and tolerance shall be kept as a model by the protesters. Public and private properties shall not be damaged and lives and honour of human beings shall be protected and respected, at any cost. Any form of violence will jeopardize sanctity of the protest movement and  render the sacrifices and tolerance exhibited, so far, null and void.

Meanwhile, the government of Gilgit – Baltistan and the federal government need to act fast and address the just demands of the grieved community. If the process is delayed further, there is a threat that the situation might spin out of control and hundreds of thousands of the residents of Gilgit city and adjacent areas, as well residents of the  connected valleys, will suffer immensely.

In the long run, the institutions of state and the governments will have to sit together and devise a strategy for curbing the menace of sectarian hatred and militancy in the region. The geo-strategic importance of Gilgit – Baltistan is dawning upon the world with each passing day and a lot of attention is focused on this region. The statement by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Mon, over the Kohistan Carnage can be taken as an example to support this view. Perpetual chaos in Gilgit – Baltistan does not augur well for the region as well as Pakistan.

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