Islamabad: Gilgit city, and by extension the entire Gilgit-Baltistan region, has been pleasantly calm during the last four years. Not even a single incident of sectarian violence has erupted. Religious and social leaders, aided, and sometime pressed, by government and administration officials, have been making very positive statements, and taking increasingly encouraging steps to sustain harmony in the region. Law enforcement measures have also been tightened during the last couple of years, maintaining law and order, which has resulted in booming of tourism and trade.
The same spirit of pluralism is at display ahead of the arrival of the Shah Karim Al-Hussaini, the Aga Khan, 49th Imam of the Nizari Ismaili sect of the Shia Muslims. The Aga Khan is scheduled to visit the Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral region, along with other parts of Pakistan, starting next week.
During his visits to different parts of the mountainous areas, the Aga Khan will address hundreds of thousands of his followers in different specially prepared grounds as part of his Diamond Jubilee celebrations. This occasion is harbinger of festivity for the Ismailis, but it has also stirred great interest and positive commotions among the Ithna Ashari and Sunni Muslims who live side by side, sometimes coming from the same families.
In Chitral, Sunni Muslims have joined hands with the Ismailis to prepare “Deedargahs”, special grounds where the Aga Khan will address his “Murids”, or followers. Not only have they gotten involved in physical work, by removing boulders, and clearing grounds, they have also opened their doors for the Ismailis, who are expected to travel to the Deedargahs from far-off villages.
In Gilgit, Syed Agha Rahat Hussain Al-Hussaini, the most influential Shia cleric of Gilgit-Baltistna, has welcomed the arrival of Prince Karim Aga Khan, and urged the Ithna Ashri Shias to extend full support to the Ismailis, by providing them free transportation and other material and emotional support, as a sign of goodwill. Agha Rahat has directed the Ithna Ashri Shias to protect the houses and properties of the Ismailis living in Gilgit who will be traveling to Ghizer and Hunza, where the Aga Khan is scheduled to meet his followers.
The Sunni elders in Yasin Valley of Ghizer District have also joined hands with the Ismailis to clear roads, and complete other tasks, ahead of the much-awaited visit of the Aga Khan.
During the month of Muharram earlier this year, Ismaili Boy Scouts had won applauds by cleaning roads in Skardu and Gilgit city, as a goodwill gesture, to facilitate Muharram processions taken out annually by the Shia Ithna Ashri Muslims. Sunni and Ismaili leaders had also participate in Ashura processions, expressing solidarity with their Shia brethren.
These measures by the Sunni and Shia Muslims livinig in the region, have created an environment of brotherhood and love, which will have a long lasting impact on the region’s society.