Wed. Oct 20th, 2021

Gilgit – Baltistan: In Search of Peace

SherBaz Ali

“The people belonging to all the religious sections are brothers and they will foil attempts of creating misunderstanding among them”. This is what religious leaders, federal and local administration and  people from different walks of life in the region express after very event to sectarian killings in Gilgit-Baltistan. The statement has been pretty much prevalent in past as well in current times, but the real question is: whether this statement really helps in combating sectarian conflicts in Gilgit-Baltistan? Is this reflective of real situation? Has this been or will be helpful for sustainable conflict resolution? If yes, to what extent? If not, what is needed to be done for peace and harmony in GB?

No one can deny the importance of the essence of brotherhood and of course, Islam places it in the very heart of every Muslim’s daily life and matters pertaining to it. Yet, often it is seen that this emphasis on brotherhood goes unheard or ignored or in worse cases, violated in the name and spirit of loyalty to a particular religious section (as well as in face of socio-economic and political  issues). This is where the emphasis on brotherhood loses its influence and misunderstanding makes its way, which turns into hatred, followed by warfare and of course, loss of precious lives.

Those who justify emphasis on brotherhood as resolution of conflict tend to forget that even real brothers do not always remain tolerant,  respectful and peaceful towards each other. At times they fell out on matters affecting their lives and sometimes even they go to the extent of killing each other. This implies that being real brothers is not a guarantee that they will live in peace and harmony for ever and they will close their eyes to the matters pertaining to their daily lives.

The purpose of this argument is not at all to portray that the relationship of brotherhood should not be emphasized or to show that it is not working well due to certain limitations. Rather the purpose here is to stress upon accepting the reality that merely calling brothers will not help in restoring confidence and avoiding conflicts.

What, then, will help in creating lasting understanding, tolerance, compassion and coexistence between a population of diverse religious background in Gilgit-Baltistan?  It is  no denying the fact that sectarian conflict is not an ephemeral phenomena nor has it been limited only to GB.  Based on the past and present situation, we can not expect and predict a region without conflict. However, it is indeed, possible and within reach to dis-intensify the conflict and save human lives.

In face of the serious situation, there is not a single panacea for long term solution rather there should be a combination of measures on community, administration and policy level.

In the first place, federal and provincial governments have to change their casual attitude towards the situation. There are two alarming threats to human lives in Gilgit-Baltistan, which require long term planning, sustainable solutions and effective follow ups. First one is sectarianism and the second is natural disasters. The later is not our topic of discussion today, so we will focus on the former. Anybody can understand that lava of sectarianism can erupt anytime in a volatile region like Gitgit-Baltistan, where it remains latent in apparent peaceful days but bursts out whenever it gets a chance. There has been neither a serious effort on the part of the government to combat this menace the way it should be nor has it been part of priorities. Now, the need of the hour is that without wasting further time, the government needs to evolve a viable course of action in terms of restoring law and order, filling the security lapses, safeguarding human lives, building confidence and understanding, improving governance, reducing corruption and nepotism, and providing access to socio-economic justice.

Secondly, the communities living in Gilgit-Baltistan have to realize that this land is their common homeland and everyone living here has the right to life. The hatred has been given much time resulting in further backwardness of the region, and adherence to it will even more deteriorate the region, so why not peace be given a chance. No complete elimination of one or other section is possible through elimination, and nor flowers can be received in return of stones and bullets. The sooner it is realized the better it is.

In addition,  it is true that there are external actor and factor also involved in getting the situation worsened. However, if a house is in order, external factors cause little or no harm, but when the house is out of order from within, external factors exploit the situation. No one will come from the Mars to keep our house in order, it is we, the people of GB, who can make the difference.

Besides that, at this juncture it is imperative more than ever for youth of Gilgit-Baltistan to come forward and play their significant role in transforming the society and bridging gulf of misunderstandings. Our youth is more informed than ever before, it is within their capacity and within their reach to channelize their potentials towards peaceful and prosperous Gilgit-Baltistan.

 In light of the above discussion, some of the workable steps in restoring and enhancing peace can be discussed under the following headings.

On community Level

1- All the political and religious parties, public figures, social activists, should get  involved in bridging the gap and removing misunderstanding.

2- A process of dialogue should be facilitated among hostile sections to share ideas on how to promote peace. Based on mutual understanding a memorandum of understanding should be singed which should stipulate that all the religious segments will not encourage misunderstandings and will not allow presence of violent elements in their ranks. The memorandum should also bind the signatories not to strike first.

3- Joint actions committees comprising all the religious segments to keep eye on outside influences and finding out why the region is susceptible to unrest in result of unrest in other parts of the country.

4- Youth  must be actively involved in peace building process.

5- The institutes of higher learning in the region should have think tanks comparing scholars of different religious segments, which from time to time submit its findings to the administration on emerging issues.

6- NGOs and Community Based Organizations (CBOs) should make the emphasis on religious harmony essential part of their activities.

7- Media must highlight aspects of mutual acceptance and understanding.

On Administration Level

1- Army should remained deployed in sensitive areas until the capacity building of other law enforcement agencies. In the meanwhile, there should be rigorous steps to build the capacity of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to enable them keep law and order situation under control. Army check posts should be established at various location on KKH to safeguard the travelers.

2- The administration should ensure its impartiality. This is of paramount importance because if all the sections of the society have the feeling that there is a system which they can trust, there is someone they can believe, there is a mechanism which delivers, they will not opt to take the law in their own hand.

3- The process of gradual de-weaponization should be carried out. Immediate and abrupt operation may not work well. The process of confidence building measures and dialogue should precede, followed by voluntary de-weaponization and ultimately search for weapons with the help of respective sections of the population.

3- The federal and provincial government should create venues for jobs and introduce employment programs and projects for the region.

4- Following the success examples of ombudsman in other provinces, the office of ombudsman should be established and strengthened in Gilgit-Baltistan. It should be made accessible to all the people, so that those who become victim of corruption or maltreatment in whatsoever form, will approach it.

On policy Level

1- There should be legislation on zero tolerance for religious hatred, inciting religious violence, and publishing mala fide literature.

2- Legislation on and implementation of anti-corruptions law is also a must in Gilgit-Baltistan.

3- Education should be used as a medium for long term prevention of sectarianism and for this purpose the subject of religious tolerance and coexistence must be introduced and taught from elementary school.

4- To foster inter and intra-community harmony, community service should be made essential part of school curriculum and it should be binding upon all the students not only to learn but also spend sometime during each year for community service within their community as well as their sister communities.

Last but not the least, lets not forget what Mulana Rumi said, “The candles are many, but the light is the same.” So lets keep the candles lighting in our search for peace in Gilgit-Baltistan.

The contributor can be reached at brooks2004@gmail.com

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