Violence-hit Gilgit faces shortage of essentials
By Farooq Ahmed Khan in Gilgit & Qasim A. Moini in Islamabad
April 9: The authorities relaxed curfew for three hours, from 2pm to 5pm, in strife-torn Gilgit on Monday so that people could buy essential commodities.The entry and exit points were closed and no one was allowed to enter or leave the city, except government officials.
The stock in the market was almost finished and traders fleeced the buyers.
There was no report of any untoward incident from any part of the city.
Police said personnel of Pakistan Army, Rangers, Gilgit-Baltistan Scouts as well as police conducted raids in Khomar point of Gilgit and arrested five people with illegal weapons.
In Skardu, officials said there was complete shutter-down strike as angry people burnt tyres and protested in a peaceful manner.
The traffic on the Karakoram Highway was suspended for the seventh day, hence the region was facing shortages of foodstuff as the available stock was almost finished while fresh supplies were suspended.
In a glimmer of hope the team which held talks with those holding hostages in Nagar valley claimed to have made a major breakthrough and gave the green signal indicating that all impediments have been removed and all the hostages would be released by Tuesday evening. Police officials said the hostages were safe.
Isolated and forgotten?
Gilgit is a little over 470 kilometres from Islamabad. Yet the apparent apathy shown by the state towards restoring order to the northernmost part of Pakistan makes it appear as if the region is located on another planet.
For the last week the region has been in the throes of sectarian violence, ever since a grenade was lobbed at protesting workers of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, a sectarian outfit, in Gilgit on April 3. The attack caused a spiral of violence, with passengers pulled off buses in Chilas and shot by members of a mob reportedly due to their religious affiliation. More killings, kidnappings and protests followed, paralysing the region as the armed forces were called in and curfew was clamped in Gilgit.
A week since violence broke out, the region, specifically Gilgit, remains under lockdown. Cellphone coverage is still blocked (though it was reportedly restored in Skardu on Sunday). Travel by road is said to be out of the question as the Karakoram Highway remains blocked, with Chilas still volatile.
Air links to Gilgit are also suspended. PIA is operating flights to Skardu, but these are subject to vagaries of the weather. The road link between Skardu and Gilgit is also said to be blocked.
Lack of information and access have compounded the crisis. In Gilgit, there is said to be a critical shortage of petrol and diesel along with food and medicine. It is safe to say that if the curfew is not lifted soon, there will be a major human emergency in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Considering the circumstances, we must ask a question we have asked many times before: where is the state? The authorities whisked a number of foreign tourists out of the region — and thankfully so — on Sunday, but locals seem to be left to their own devices. The state, specifically the security establishment, needs to act now to prevent this human tragedy ballooning into an unmanageable crisis.
Violent episodes have repeated themselves in GB since the late 1980s, and one wonders if the state has accepted the fact that cycles of violence will now be a permanent feature of life in the region, just as in other parts of Pakistan (Karachi immediately springs to mind). It is hoped this is certainly not the case.
Some locals of Gilgit-Baltistan are of the view that if the security forces want, they can carry out targeted searches of areas where they suspect weapons are stored. The small number of such operations that have been carried out have clearly not been enough or else the violence would have abated much earlier. Considering the area’s limited access and relatively small population, it should not be difficult for the authorities to check the import and stockpiling of arms and ammunition.
During several points of order, the Gilgit-Baltistan issue was raised during the joint session of parliament on Monday. Some members talked of praying for the victims of the troubled region, while others talk of forming a commission to look into the situation. Prayers alone will do little, while countless commissions have been formed on a multitude of issues, with little to speak for their performance.
The time is for action. The first priority of the state must be to restore law and order, while the second must be to end the blockade and lift the curfew so that Gilgit-Baltistan’s link with the rest of Pakistan is restored. In the longer term, the state must employ result-oriented methods of conflict resolution while it must work on developing land routes that can be used as alternatives if the volatile Kohistan-Chilas corridor is blocked. And the alien sectarian elements that have struck roots in the region need to be monitored and must face the law if they continue to fan communal tensions.
We see a disturbing pattern developing, as Parachinar is also often blocked off from the rest of Pakistan; the Thall-Parachinar Road, the only viable artery connecting Kurram Agency with the rest of the country, is often targeted by Taliban militants, closing it for months on end. Gilgit-Baltistan should not be another Parachinar in the making.