New Delhi: Violence erupted in Gilgit, the administrative headquarters of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) on Tuesday, when two motorcyclists dropped hand grenades on a rally organised by a Sunni sectarian outfit.
The motorcyclists, believed to be Shias, attacked the rally by Ahl-e-Sunnat wal Jamaat, which is the new name for the dreaded Sipah-e-Sahiba.
The rally was organized by the group to demand the release of its Deputy Secretary, General Maulana Ataullah Sadiq, who had been arrested on March 28 in connection with firing on a Shia procession.
The blasts on Tuesday morning killed at least five men and injured 50 others, which resulted in rioting and imposition of curfew.
Various roads were blocked by burning tyres and there were numerous incidents of aerial firing. In the retaliatory violence six passengers from a bus coming from Rawalpindi were forced to disembark at Chilas, a Sunni dominated town South of Gilgit, and shot dead in cold blood. Six other buses were set in fire at Chilas.
Gilgit Baltistan: 25 years of violence and bloodshed
The scenic heights of Gilgit Baltistan perched high on the Karakoran ranges have been affected by frequent bouts of violence for the last two and a half decade. The region, which comprises more than 85 per cent of the territory of Jammu and Kashmir under the illegal occupation of Pakistan, has been completely denied autonomy and has been governed by Islamabad like a colony.
Till the passage of Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order 2009 in September 2009, the region had no legal entity- till then it was neither a part of Pakistan nor an independent entity. It was governed by outside bureaucrats appointed by Islamabad. Even now when a notion of autonomy has been granted to the region and an elected legislative assembly is in place, the real power is wielded by the GB Council, which is headed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan and is dominated by his nominees.
What’s more, Pakistani government has even abrogated the State Subjects Order, which prevented outsiders from acquiring property and citizenship in this strategic region. This has led to large- scale migration of the outsiders to the region and has disturbed the sectarian and ethnic balance of the region. Pakistan is also building a mega dam, which will flood huge tracts of fertile land in GB, but the electricity generated will go to Pakistan.
The inhabitants of this resource rich region have been demanding their constitutional rights for decades. Many nationalists have often demanded freedom from Pakistani occupation; however, the ruling establishment has tried to create difference amongst the populace along sectarian lines and every attempt by the citizens to demand their rights has led to sectarian violence.
Amongst the territories of Pakistan, including those under its illegal occupation, GB is the only administrative unit, where Shias are in majority. As a result, Shias in GB are unwilling to submit to extremist Sunni aggression.
The history of sectarian violence in Gilgit Baltistan
The genesis of sectarian violence in GB lie in the attempts by General Zia-ul Haq to introduce Sunni sectarian Islam in this Shia dominated region. In 1988 thousands of armed tribesmen from outside invaded Gilgit along the Karakoram Highway and killed hundreds of Shia residents and destroyed their crops and houses.
Since then the sectarianism has become an endemic problem within the region and has been used to diffuse the demands for local empowerment. In 2004-05, all schools in the region remain closed as Shias objected to certain portions of the school course curriculum, particularly the contents of Islamiyat and Urdu text books.
The sectarian violence in the region has claimed many lives including the Inspector General of Police and Agha Ziauddin, a widely respected Shia cleric. In February at Kohistan just outside GB, 18 Shia residents of the region were forced to disembark from buses going to Gilgit, by men in military fatigues and shot dead.
Gilgit Baltistan is legally and constitutionally an integral part of India. Unfortunately successive Indian governments have maintained stoic silence over the happenings there. In the past, residents from the region have demanded reservations in Indian educational institutions for economic development of the residents.
Sectarian violence here is an attempt by the Pakistani establishment to deny the local residents their legitimate rights by embroiling them in internecine war.
(The article has been contributed to by Alok Bansal, a New Delhi based security analyst)