An Editorial in The Daily Pioneer
14 APR 2012
The release of 31 hostages, who had been held in an act of retaliatory violence, in the Nagar valley of Gilgit-Baltistan area in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir may have given the local administration some relief, but the larger sectarian conflict between the region’s Shia community and the Sunnis remains unresolved. The tension that has been brewing for the past two decades, having been stirred and sautéed by the Pakistani establishment, gained full body last week. A hand-grenade attack on a Sunni rally that killed six people and wounded dozen others on April 3 was the catalyst that set off a serious of vicious attacks in the Gilgit-Baltistan area leading to the hostage situation in Nagar Valley. It can only be hoped that their release on Tuesday marks the end of the worst sectarian violence the region has seen since 1988 — when President Zia-ul-Haq, best known for injecting radicalism into his country’s Army, had ordered Sunni tribesmen from adjacent areas to invade the Shia-majority Gilgit-Baltistan. That attack had in effect laid the ground for decades of communal tension. It is now be foolish to expect that Gen Zia’s poison tree can be so easily uprooted overnight. Indeed, the tenuous peace achieved this week — the result of a large-scale curfew and the overwhelming presence of the Pakistani Army — is already threatening to fall apart. The curfew has hurt the impoverished locals particularly hard; many of them daily wage workers with meagre savings haven’t earned a rupee in days. Tourism, the mainstay of this breathtakingly beautiful region, too has been hit badly. When violence broke out on April 3, the Pakistani Army airlifted a handful of tourists out of the area, and it is unlikely that any more will return in the days to come. Worse still, with the region’s lifeline — the Karakoram Highway — closed indefinitely, there is an acute shortage of food and water in the area, with even basic medical supplies being unavailable.
Patience is running thin and emotions are running high. Locals are suspicious of the Pakistani administration that has over the years done little to alleviate their social condition. Instead, the Pakistani state has not only infused bad blood in the region but has also exploited its vast natural resources to suit its own vested interests. Persecuted and oppressed by Islamabad, the tortured Shias of Gilgit-Baltistan are now looking towards New Delhi for help. After all, the Government of India does officially claim the area to be its own. It stands to reason, therefore, that it should also be responsible for the safety and welfare of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. However, that has been far from the case, with New Delhi having effectively ceded control of the region to Pakistan. India has not even strongly voiced its dismay over the killings in the region. This is shocking.
Source: The Daily Pioneer, New Delhi