Wed. Nov 25th, 2020

Attabad Disaster: A Story of oppressive governance, injustice and debauchery

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A group of protesters had blocked the Karakuram Highway in Aliabad Town of the Hunza Valley on the 11th of August 2011, to register their protest against delays in payment of compensations. They were frustrated because the government of Gilgit-Baltistan had failed to transfer the promised money in their bank accounts despite of many promises.

The Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), protesting that day, who had migrated from Shishkat and Ayeenabad villages of the Gojal Valley to this town in Central Hunza, had to pay rents, buy food and pay for other basic needs of life. They had heard that the Chief Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan, Syed Mehdi Shah, will come to the valley on that day. Thinking that protesting in front of him might help resolve the issues they were facing, they had blocked the KKH by gathering in middle of the road.

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A number of police officials, led by DSP Babar, were adamant to make the IDPs leave, to clear the path for the motorcade of the Chief Minister. They were trying to force the protesters away from the road. Some hot words were exchanged. Some fists flew. Stones were thrown. One stone hit the DSP. Police constables fired shots.

Astonished and terrified protesters and onlookers saw a young man falling to the ground, his cloths fast drenching in his own blood. An aged man moved forward to help the bleeding youth. More shot were fired. The middle-aged man was also hit. He tried to cover his chest and stomach and fell in middle of the road. Some other people also fell.

There were some moments of frightening silence, and then all hell broke loose.

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Hundreds of people who were present in the Bazar attacked the police officials. Several people, including police constables, were thrashed and injured, some profusely bleeding. Those sustaining bullet injuries were rushed to a nearby hospital for treatment. Two of them died, while three others were treated for minor and major injuries.

Within hours the news had gripped the entire valley. Two unarmed people, later identified as Sherullah Baig (father) and Sher Afzal (son), had been shot dead by the police officials in cold blood.

Tens of buildings and vehicles of the government had been torched by enraged mobs. Roads had been blocked in the entire valley and the region had virtually been turned into a protest zone. Soon, there were reports about protest demonstrations in Gilgit, Ghizer, Diamer and other parts of the Gilgit-Baltistan region.

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The protesting and murdered IDPs had been displaced from their villages in the Gojal Valley, Upper Hunza, due to a lake surge caused by the damming of the Hunza River. The Hunza River had been blocked since January 4, 2010 due to a major landslide at Attabad village. The landslide on the 4th of January had led to the death of 19 people and around 150 households had been displaced from Attabad and surrounding two villages, as their houses, land and village turned into debris of rocks, sand and mud.

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The agony of the natural disaster was still fresh when the terror unleashed by the police officials struck. What followed the incident was a series of shameful gimmicks and cover-up tactics, which led to promotion of the DSP – who was present at the shooting site and reportedly ordered the unauthorized firing, to the rank of Superintendent of Police, and no punishment or even trial for the gunmen who had shot two unarmed IDPs dead.

Fake promises and lies told by the Speaker of GBLA, the then Law Minister Wazir Shakil (now a judge), Finance Minister Muhammad Ali Akhtar and others helped pacify the violent situation. They tricked the masses by showing fake FIRs to thousands of people who had gathered in Aliabad and were not allowing the bodies to be put to rest.

A Judicial Investigation was launched and an investigation report was also prepared, which is probably gathering dust in some government office. Hundreds of cases were registered against the region’s populace for torching government property and several dozen were rounded up, tortured and then released as the charges could not be proven against them. Some were held for longer periods and four people were punished for 10 year imprisonment each during the last quarter of the last year. Chief of the Progressive Youth Front, Baba Jan, was kept in prison for around 13 months and then released under domestic, national and international pressure. Two of his comrades still languish in the jail.

The 4th of January refreshes horrid stories of the sufferings and the losses of the people of Attabad and the villages of Gojal Valley, due to destruction of land and houses, politics of oppression and suppression, curb on democratic expressions of dissent, as well as the continued blockade of the Karakuram Highway.

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What compounds the sufferings of the disaster hit people of Hunza valley is the utmost disrespect for human life and absence of political and social justice. The state’s monopoly over violence was brutally used against the affected people who stood for their rights in Gilgit, Aliabad, Gulmit, Sost and other parts of Gojal Valley. Every mean available was used to crush the dissent, in the name of maintenance of law and order, with complete disregard to human rights. These brutalities resulted in weakening of the people’s boding with the institutions of the state. It is logical for the people, in this scenario, to feel helpless in front of a state and a government which does not punish murderers and instead goes after civilians who protest against uncalled for state violence.

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After four years, the people affected by the Attabad landslide disaster remain deprived of basic necessities. Health facilities have not been improved, the hundreds of families who lost their land remain without any compensation and the Karakuram Highway still remains blocked. Several dozens of youth and other locals implicated in false, politically motivated, cases remain under the shadow of injustice and tunnel-vision leadership. Due to absence of administrative and advisory support the families who received compensation for the loss of houses remain under-served.

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And while the government remains apathetic towards the plight of the locals, plans are underway to construct power houses near the spillway of the dammed Hunza River, with complete disregard for the losses of the people whose land and properties, and decades of hardwork, the lake has destroyed.

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