Army in GB to Silence Voice of People
Calling out the army to quell the possibility of sectarian violence in Pakistan’s
disputed territory, Gilgit Baltistan, blows apart the veneer of peace and
development in the region which successive governments, with the aid of the
army, have been struggling to project.
Summoning the army, which sparks only fear among the Shias, is more of an
excuse to silence the growing protests against the government.
The disputed Himalayan territory has been witness to sporadic violence over
countless issues for some time. People have been taking to the streets over
climate disaster, wheat flour crisis, the army’s land grabbing, power shortages
and water issues. Underlying all these protests and skirmishes is the continuing sectarian conflict which the army has been promoting to keep the area and its people under its firm control.
This time too, the issue is sectarian. The Shias dominate the region and have
been particularly incensed at the government’s move to introduce harsher
punishments for blasphemy cases. The Shias believe that the objective of the
new Bill in the National Assembly was to subjugate them further and promote
Sunni ideology and people.
In August, popular Shia leader and cleric Agha Baqir al-Hussaini was arrested
when he spoke against the blasphemy laws during an ulema council meeting in Skardu. The Sunnis had raised the issue on August 22 by blocking the
Karakoram Highway in Daimer. Sunnis are in majority in Daimer. Shias have
since then been countering these protests in other parts of the region with their own demands.
Under pressure from the Sunnis, the authorities charged Shia leader Anjuman
Imamia Chief Allama Baqir Al-Huseini for blasphemy and arrested him. The
arrest of a popular leader enraged the Shia community, provoking them to take to the streets against the Sunnis and the government in Skardu and other cities.
The region is now awash with rumours. One vicious rumour had even caused
the blocking of Skardu highway recently. A recent media report highlighted the
grim situation graphically. It said the situation was so volatile that even a spark could turn into full fire that would raze the entire forest in minutes. Rumours and protests are increasing every passing day making the atmosphere more poisonous and vulnerable.
It is feared that an outbreak of more violence and strife could happen during the Shuhda-e-Karbala Chehlum Processions from september 5 to
7. The authorities have banned the entry of Ulema, Tablighi
Jamaat, and Afghan Nationals in Skardu. Taking the possibility of violence as
an excuse, the authorities have been quick to call the army, an action which has triggered fear across the region about another round of draconian suppression of people’s voice.
Gilgit-Baltistan has witnessed several major incidents of sectarian clashes over the years, often resulting in casualties and tensions between the Shia and Sunni communities.
One of the most infamous incidents occurred in 1988 when a violent clash
erupted between Sunni and Shia groups in Gilgit. A rumour alleging a Sunni
massacre at the hands of Shias resulted in an attack by thousands of armed
tribesmen from the south resulting in the killing of nearly four hundred Shias,
and the burning of several Shia villages. In 2005, sectarian violence flared up in Chilas, a town in Diamer District of Gilgit-Baltistan. The clashes resulted in the deaths of several individuals from both sects. The fire of sectarian strife had never really calmed down, mainly because the state and the army had vested interest in keeping the region boiling.