GILGIT: District administrations in Gilgit and Diamer have announced “mini-lockdowns” in the wake of the prevailing “law and order situation” and in view of the surging cases of CoVID-19 infection.
According to a notification issued by the Diamer administration, the lockdown will continue for three days, starting May 21. A similar announcement has been made by the Gilgit district administration on social media.
The decision of imposing a “mini lockdown” comes in the wake of rising sectarian tension in the region fueled by recent incidents involving two influential clerics and the fears of a ‘third wave’ of CoVID-19 infections, as cases continue to rise in mainland Pakistan.
Law & Order
In the recent past, Agha Rahat Hussain Al-Hussaini (Ithna Ashri Shia cleric) and Qazi Nisar (Ahle-Sunnat Waljamat cleric), exchanged and accepted challenges for Mubahila, a ritual in which two rival groups come forth to prove their righteousness by invoking God’s wrath/curse on the liar and falsehood. The belief is that the righteous will survive the wrath of God, while the liar will be destroyed.
The discussion about Mubahila arose after Agha Rahat Hussain Al-Hussainin, in his Eid-ul-Fitr sermon claimed that Ithna Ashri Shiism was the real Islam and invited the Sunnis and Ismailis (a sub-branch of Shiism) to convert and accept Shiism as the real Islam. He also challenged clerics from opposite sects to participate in a “Mubahila” to either prove their righteous faith or invoke the wrath of God.
Ahl-al-Sunnat wal Jamaat’s Qazi Nisar and other clerics responded by accepting the challenge through a letter, asking for topics of debate and space for the Mubahila.
In response, Agha Rahat, through Anjuman-e-Imamia, proposed that the Mubahila should include lighting a fire. He proposed that he, himself, and Qazi Nisar, will enter the fire and whosoever comes out unhurt will be the righteous one. Agha Rahat also proposed that the Mubahila can take place in the Shahi Pologround located in Gilgit city, on May 21.
These announcements spread fear and shock across the region, with people fearing the violence might erupt.
Both clerics have accused each other of starting the debates.
Hate Speech on Social Media
These exchanges flared up sectarian emotions in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, which has been rife with sectarian violence and conflicts. Incidents of hate speech started appearing on social media soon. Videos of a hateful speech made by a clerics in Diamer district has also been making rounds on social media.
In response, the GB Police has announced a crackdown and arrested multiple people on allegations of spreading sectarian hate content on Facebook and other social media platforms. There are reports that 18 cases of hate-speech have been registered. The detained individuals include two police officials, accused of using social media to spread hate. Renowned progressive activist Hasnain Ramal was also arrested on the allegation of spreading ‘anti-state’ content, drawing condemnation on social media.
Civil Society’s Response
On the other side, the youth of Gilgit-Baltistan and vast majority of religious leaders from all sects, political and social leaders, and civil society activists have rejected and condemned the clerics for fanning hatred and creating a law and order situation in the region. Demands for swift and resolute action against the clerics are also being made across the region.
Awami Action Committee convened a multi-party meeting to start joint efforts for resolution of the issue. The meeting was attended by representatives from different religious and political groups and a joint resolution was also adopted, condemning hate and demanding unity for development and prosperity of the region.
Civil society members rallied in Astore district to appeal for harmony and peace and rejection of extremism and hatemongering.
For almost a week, the government did not make any significant public statements to inform the public about steps being taken to address the issue.
As the situation worsened and letters kept getting exchanged between the two cleric, the GB government started making efforts to control the situation by meeting the clerics, other religious leader, and mediating between them. Delegations, including ministers of the GB cabinet, have met with the rival clerics in an attempt to pacify the situation. Scholars from Diamer and Baltistan have also called for maintenance of law and order and respecting each other’s faith.
GB Chief Minister Khalid Khursheed addressed a press conference yesterday promising that the writ of the government will be maintained and miscreants will be held to account.
Till the posting of this report, there were no announcements about any breakthrough reached between the rival clerics.
The CoVID-19 situation in Gilgit-Baltistan has been under control for the past several weeks. 13 cases of Coronavirus infection were reported in GB on Wednesday, including Skardu 4, Gilgit 3, Kharmang 2, Shigar 2, Diamer 1 and Hunza 1. The Daily Positive Ratio in the region has remained around 3.8% for several weeks, while the recovery rate is 96.8%.
There are, however, fears that due to communal activities held during the recently concluded Eid, the cases might rise in the days ahead.
Vaccination is also being held regularly in different districts of the region.