Sat. Jul 2nd, 2022

Sectarianism as an Institution in Gilgit-Baltistan

Israruddin Israr

By: Israruddin Israr

In the history of Gilgit-Baltistan, sectarianism emerged for the first time over the issue of dispensation of power between two major sects of Islam -Shia and Sunni, when local people liberated the area from Dogra rule and took over the administrative affairs of GB on 1st November 1947.

During the initial four decades, the menace of sectarianism it was non- violent due to draconian maximalist law of FCR which could not allow the violence in the society on the bases of creed and sect. Soon after the abolishment of the FCR, sectarianism turned violent. The biggest incidents of violence occurred in 1988, 2005 and 2012. Apart from these, the region witnessed hundreds of other incidents of sectarian violence during the last three decades. It has claimed more than 800 lives, 3000 people have been injured and migration of hundreds of families has also occurred within GB, as well as to the other parts of Pakistan.

Now the weird impacts of last four decades violence has emerged in the shape of sectarianism as an institution in Gilgit-Baltistan. The institutions that are promoting sectarianism are pro-active and functional, whereas the institutions that were the source of social interaction are either nonfunctional or being demolished.

The religious Seminaries, Masajids, Imam Barghas and Jamat Khanas are all sect based institutions that are busy round the clock in imparting sectarianism as a whole. Now due to the last four decades sectarian violence,  the secular and public institutions like schools, hospitals, NGOs and Community Based Organizations (CBOs) have also been divided on sectarian lines,  while the public spaces have also been divided and transformed into no go areas and killing zones of the city.

Israruddin Israr
Israruddin Israr

Shahi Polo ground is one of the places (rendezvous) of effective social interaction. Polo tournaments are held twice in a year and, friendly matches are also held often every year.

When polo matches are held in the Shahi Polo ground thousands of spectators go there to enjoy the game and, without any difference of sect, color, language and caste, they support their favorite polo teams. But it’s not a day to day activity. That is why it is not as much effective as the sect based institutions.

The cinemas are actually rendezvous and good public places. There were popular cinemas like Naseem, Garrison and Raqs in the Gilgit city. Unfortunately, all the three cinemas have been demolished in the decade of 90s and 2000s.

Parks are good public places, too. A city park is located in Kashrot area where other communities cannot visit because of sectarian violence, whereas other areas (Mohallas) of the city are deprived of parks. Same situation is with play grounds, municipal library and picnic spots. Recently constructed sports complex is located in Jutial which is not accessible to youth who are from middle of the city.

There is no any auditorium, art gallery, gym, hokey ground etc in the city. The local culture had been a binding force for the social fabric of Gilgit city. But now the sect based institutions have ruined all the cultural events as well as rituals of Gilgit society.

For example, Shakeel Ahmed Shakeel narrates that in Gilgit the festival named “Shaap” – a traditional ritual and a peculiar event of Shina Community, was celebrated in winter after slaughtering Nasalo (Traditional ritual of slaughtering animals to dry meat for the whole winter). The old Gilgit city was comprised of eleven villages that are called Kot, and the eleven Kots were divided into two sectors that was called Phari, pʰarí. Every Kot had its Trangpha, (Namberdar) and Zetú (Helper of Namberdar). People from all Kots celebrated Shaap in their Kot on different nights and finally they celebrated Thal Shaap (Grand Shaap) jointly.

After it they gathered in Kot Mohla Gilgit for Brangsa (Feast). All shaap groups from eleven Kot came there to attend the feast.There was a competition of Phali Gaaye (crambo) held between two sectors, the spectators mentally as well as physically involved in the competition and supported the crambo player of their respective sectors. Unfortunately, many a time the feast would end with a quarrel of the groups of opposite sectors. But those quarrels did not result in killings and murders, because the rivals did not have any concern to decode their symbolic prestige or identity”. Shaap was a great source and space of social interaction among the people of Gilgit city. Many other cultural events were also held which were the sources of social interaction.

Marriage ceremonies were also sources of social interaction; people from different sects attended each other’s marriages and performed the traditional dance on the music of local band. Cross sect marriages was also a common practice of the area.  And the funeral ceremonies were also source of interaction, people attended each other’s funeral ceremonies without biasness of sect. But now a day’s people don’t attend such ceremonies with the traditional zeal and zest. All the cultural events which were the source of social interaction are now vanished.

Apart from it, there are sect-based NGOs and community based organization, while the alarming situation is it that there are dozens of sect based youth led organizations, there supreme motto is to serve their sect only and defend it from other sects. These organizations are basically the tools which are being used for the sectarianism. These youth led organizations have no sympathy with the youth of other sects. Such faith based organizations have blocked the traditional social and political means of interaction for the youth. While political parties have also divided on sect bases. The existing so called secular intuitions in GB are also inspired with sect based approach of society; therefore they can’t combat the sectarianism within the institutions as well as in the society.

There are only some secular institutions and youth led organizations, but they have no say in the society due to their week capabilities in terms of resources and social resistance.

The above discussion unveils the fact that the faith based institutions have sabotaged the culture and the secular institutions of social interaction in Gilgit city particularly and Gilgit-Baltistan as a whole. Now, we have only sect based institutions which are busy in the task of brain washing of the new generation against each other’s sects. The faith based institutions are nothing more than the factories which are producing the extremists; some of them express their hatred with violence others express it through other means.

Now the efforts of secular people are confined to individuals in the comparison of faith-based institutions. We have no secular institutions against these faith based factories. If the society do not understand the crux of this problem, let the current trend to dominate and does not promote and strengthen the secular institutions in the parallel of sect based institutions, this malady of sectarianism will have a terrible and irreparable impacts on the society of GB.

The writer is a Gilgit Based senior journalist and columnist. E-mail:

18 thoughts on “Sectarianism as an Institution in Gilgit-Baltistan

  1. 1oo% agreed with you brother- The entire society has been transformed into a theological state where only bigots can survive.

  2. Excellent article.
    I beg to differ on one account though, I think partition and especially the splitting of Kashmir was a huge mistake. Apart from that, I think Religion is an Evil, not Islam – but Muslims are an evil, they USE Islam as a means to an end – and use the most draconian so called islamic Laws and edicts to create division and hatred. Islam is a Religion and should be a PERSONAL matter between man and God and not be used to sow hatred or to seek to destroy others. The hatred is but a sign of very weak faith – as common sense dictates, if one is confident in their belief, then why try to destroy others? Surely this means weak faith, and outward hatred to convince oneself that ones own faith is true. It is all nonsense. Zia and Bhutto before him changed the founding principles of Pakistan – that of a SECULAR state, and merely a homeland where Mussalman will be SAFE and NEVER was meant to be “Islamic State”. The biggest evils are from the Saudi’s and their allies who do their utmost to indoctrinate normal Sunni and turn them into Wahabi/Salafi/Ahl-e-Hadith/Deobandi which all are NOT a part of traditional Northern Sunnism.
    The only solution I am afraid is Partition. As it is now far too late to try and mend the schisms which the Saudis ,Zia and their friends helped create. Either that or drastic measures, an Ataturk type of leader must be adamant in clearing away ALL religious medressa’s and any Mullah’s who try and enforce their twisted principles upon the populace. And a purely SECULAR education. I am a Mussalman and very proud of it, and my faith is firm and sacred – so much so that I require no Mullah to guide me, and so comfortable that I can have Christian and other Non-Mussalman friends and friendship doesn’t compromise any faith I have – it merely strengthens it and enables my love to grow. Who will stand up to the Mullahs? The Mullahs are dangerous as they’re quick to denounce ANYONE as “Kaafir” and accuse anyone as opposed to islam – ie. anyone who disagrees with them they are able to crush just by using these words and Fear tactics, and people are too afraid of being labelled kaafir by a Mullah to say anything – and others with weak faith try to actively use violence to allow their actions to mean Faith – which is nonsense. So who will stand up, fearlessly, to these Mullahs? the same Mullahs’ who support murderers such as the vile bodyguard who murdered Shahbaz Bhatti – (I think it was him) – and the vile people who pander and cow-tow to the Mullahs and religious parties. Who will change things? Who will turn not only G-B but all of Pakistan back to the secular state it is supposed to be?

  3. I really appreciate those writers like Israruddin Israr who explored the realities prevailing in Gilgit Baltistan is a great tragedy. Particularly in Gilgit city multi sectarian, multi nationality, multi clans and multi social and culturaled settlers from different areas made Gilgit a city of purgatory. These kind of people must come out from their shell and gather on a platform and think what, how and who are more responsible for committing crime of killing and polorising the people and do not come out from their spider web. And identify those who are sowing the seed of extremism like those extremists who are propelling it just for the sack of their vested interest. Religious extremism and segregation is not the solution of any changing. I ask from clergies to give any example from history that is there any significant changes that brought through religious movement and extremism??? We request from the Mowliwies, Shaikhs and Mullahs please don’t make the innocent people fool quit playing the role of agent of outer force. This is called a crime and there is no space for you to accommodate yourself after death.

  4. Israr bhai well written. One more thing the comming generations will witness is the pushtoon culture dominating in our region. The business comunity of Pushtoons taking shelter under the religion propogating their own culture.. I guess it will be devastating outcome in comming days..

  5. I beg to differ with Sudrem ! Rather illegal annexation of GB with KAshmir was the biggest mistake for it had no strong bases on any single domain. ideological, cultural, ethnic, political, geographical, linguistic or social. none in reality !!!!!!

  6. Frankly speaking, I studied the article by Mr. Israr uddin, a senior journalist in GB and appreciate his researched based article on the menace of sectarianism and extremism in our society.
    I personally think that when the GB was liberated from Dogras, the conditions of those days were different than today. Initially, all Islamic sects and groups were united about the foreign rule and rightly rose against the Dogra Raj. But the expected aftermath of liberty could not be obtained as initially perceived by the liberators of the area. The changes for improvement in social, cultural, legal and administrative arena were in the hands of external masters even decades after liberating the area from the Kashmiri Dogras. There were multiple reasons to take GB on the wrong track, e.g., annexation to Pakistan was based on emotional attachments to Islam and not based on a well planned formula. Secondly, education and awareness among the common masses about their future political role was non-existent because of the existence of small tiny states (Rajwadas) which had subjugated the local population for their personal and family glory. Thirdly, The liberators (GB Scouts) was a very small force in terms of its size, numbers and arms and ammunitions as compared to the forces of Muharaja of Kashmir, who were backed by Indian Army immediate after the uprising in GB. Therefore, the liberators were forced to invite Pakistan for Military and Civil assistance. We solute the supporters and freedom fighters both from GB and those who joined them from different parts of Pakistan to liberate this whole area. But the then, political leaders lacked the capacity to devise some formula for annexation to Pakistan. As a result the people of GB suffered for a very long period of time to obtain internal autonomy as an “Autonomous Area” or even to obtain membership in the national Assembly of Pakistan. The successive governments in Pakistan used GB as a Federally Administrative Area to loot this mineral rich region through their nominated bureaucracy in GB against the will of the native population. The obscurantists have created doubts in the minds of local people that this is yet a disputed area. They forget about this reality that this area was not presented to us in plater, rather it was liberated by our forefathers through popular military and public uprising in Gilgit, which later spread all over GB.
    It is the ripe time for the political leadership as well as intelligentsia to decide either to struggle to obtain for membership in the National Assembly of Pakistan or to declare a Semi-independent state like AJK with our own Presidency and Separate administrative and legal set-up. The UN or the Government of Pakistan and India are never going to implement UN resolutions passed in 1948 on both sides of Kashmir.
    I think, our destiny is with Pakistan and GB should be declared as the “Fifth Province” of Pakistan with membership in the National Assembly.
    Sectarianism is the the by-product of the suppression of the political rights of the masses in GB. External forces are taking advantage of sectarianism to divide and rule. It is in the larger interest of the state of Pakistan as well as people of GB to include people in the governance through their elected representatives both in the Provincial and National Assemblies. I personally believe that is the only way forward!!!!!!

  7. Islam is a universal religion and it abhors from all the discriminations and excess ions. It has always emphasized on keeping balance in daily routines. But due to vested interest and gaining power some individuals as well as countries are creating disintegration amongst Muslims. All need to become and prove a true Muslim through his actions and deeds. As in Holy Quran describes “ Ina ukramukum endullaha atqakum” “The pious is better amongst you near Allah” that clarifies the pre requisition of being muslim. Amur bilmaroof and nahi anilmunker is also its pre conditions of having a muslim. Unfortunately we are not following this principle that is why those muslims who have once ruled over the world are now victim of disintegration in their own states. This is the need of hour to put the share of each and every civilized citizen to make harmony and unity amongst Muslims. The main responsibility lies with all types of leadership and management whether it is political or religious base. The writers, journalists, scholars and every civilized member of society can play their role to discourage and condemn the social menaces like sectarianism, nepotism, favoritism, regionalism and corruption as well.
    If a society has no regard and respect to rule of law that certain society becomes victim of disintegration.
    After losing many lives in Gb now leadership and management are on same page in making peace in Gilgit with the coordination of Masajid board and with peace committees. This is good sign for future development of GB. Sometimes I also smell in the statements of leaders regarding issues of govt officials or institutions. These leaders need to avoid giving such statements where sect is reflected.
    If any individual or institution is becoming the cause of defaming for area should dealt strictly irrespective of his sect and party affiliations. These are the indicators which make the area and society instable and suspicious. For example if papers are out in KIU than it should be investigated freely and impartially that what was wrong in this deed. Why it was happened. Who should be held responsible for this corruption? As impartial social analyst I would say all are responsible because all are getting benefits in the name of KIU. If KIU would be dysfunctional than all staff would be released automatically. That is why Office boy to VC should constantly work for its sustainability and development.
    If any staff is involved in conspiracy to defame the KIU , VC, registrar and controller respectively. In such cases proper and fair investigation should be carried to trace the original culprit whether he may be post office employee or KIU. So far I have also witnessed that system need to improve in nominating examiners and paper checkers as well. Just an example I had to quote the KIU aiming at its whole improvement that is gift for all of us in GB. We do not value our own people as well as our own institutions.
    We expect with senior management and political leadership to discourage and condemn all types of bias nesses observed in offices and zero tolerance should be there for such harmful individuals.

  8. There has never ever been peace in the world! This quote was coined in terms the 20th century popular concept ‘The Clash of Civilizations” dealing with the fault lines, also comes true when we speak of Gilgit Baltistan. The phenomenon of sectarian mild-violence dates a long before The Gilgit Rebellion/Freedom. Dr. Leitner in Dardistan relates if person belonging to one sect mistakenly slips into area of cross sect, he would be rewarded with a scratch near his ankle as a warning or symbol and slipping into twice and thrice would bring worse fate but more importantly not the worst fate in almost all the instances.

  9. I dare to differ with Israr bahi …
    sectarian in GB imported after 1988 major incident, it was not present earlier…
    However the other facts are nicely explained in the article.

  10. agarcha but hain jammat k astinoun may.
    Mujay hy hukam e azzan la ilaha ilalah.
    Weldon israr bai.
    Some points has capicty to more detailized.
    But all over good effort and true enlysis.

  11. A very true picture portrayed. It is high time that we do not fall prey to the evil designs of the countries who are pouring money into our area for there own interest. We should understand that we all have to live here together and no one is responsible for others hereafter. The example of Astore public should be an eye opener for GB. Even during 1988 debacle they did not allow the lushkar to enter Astore. This is the correct spirit for us all to understand otherwise the water will flow over our heads. It is time we shoul restraint ourselves even if provoked to fail the enemy designs. May Allah Almighty give us that taufiq, Ameen..

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