Opinion Pak Affairs

Sectarianism in Gilgit – Baltistan

Gilgit is capital of the so – called Northern Areas of Pakistan and if, at some point in time, this region becomes ‘the fifth province’, as some of the residents envisage, this is the city most qualified to be the provincial capital. It is a small and beautiful city, surrounded by mountains, with river Hanisara, having origin in the world famous Shandur region, flowing through the city. It is densely populated and a commercial hub of the entire region, with lesser breathing space for the original inhabitants.

The entire region is severely divided on sectarian lines since late eighties, after a group of Jihadis attacked a Shia village called Jalalabad, located at the periphery of Gilgit city, and burnt it down, killing men, women, children and even animals, without discrimination. The remnants of Afghan “Jihad” wanted to capture the Northern Areas and establish their rule in the region. The exact number of people killed in that most brutal of attacks on civilians in Gilgit – Baltistan is not known. Neither have we known anything about the perpetrators, executioners, financiers and the planners of the attack. No one has been punished, needless to say. Justice has not been done.

Nowhere else, in the entire region, are the sectarian divisions more visible than Gilgit city. There are Sunni localities and then there are strictly Shia localities. These localities become no – go areas during times of sectarian clashes.

After that attack, launched in 1988, there have been several sectarian riots in the region. Members of opposite sects (including Shias and Ismailies) have been slaughtered on the Karakuram Highway, shot in the streets of Gilgit city and tormented throughout the region. This is not to mean that only the Sunnis are taking guns in hands, the Shias have also killed members of their opposite sects. Several Ismailies have also been killed in the “cross fire”.

On January 8, 2005, after the murder of Agha Zia Udin Rizvi, an influential local leader of the Shia community, eighteen people, including director of a government department, were killed in broad daylight in Gilgit city. Schools, colleges and the region’s only university, the Karakuram International University, remained closed for more than ninety days because of the resulting sectarian tension built.

The most relevant question might be who is behind all this  Sectarian killings in Gilgit – Baltistan are recent phenomena. People in the region had been living in peace for centuries, with negligible or no sectarian rift. What has suddenly changed in the region that the peaceful people have turned into extremist sect lovers?

Nationalists and other centrifugal forces point fingers the establishment, the agencies and other government elements, as is the ‘norm’ in other parts of the country as well. Some segments of the society blame the Indians and other world powers for the sectarian history of Gilgit – Baltistan. The position of the government is not known, because any inquiries, if held, are not shared with the public.

Nationalists argue that through sectarianism the region is kept divided, to avert attention from the denied constitutional rights of the region. This lack of transparency and justice has fueled suspicion and brewed alienation from the state, to threatening degree.

Lack of justice has coupled with the feeling of betrayal triggered by the state’s refusal to bring the region into the national political mainstream, has helped create and environment where the state is looked at with suspicion and distrust. Trained sectarian militias exist in the region, because of this feeling of insecurity.

Very recently, a week ago, deputy speaker, Syed Asad Zaidi, of the region’s toothless “legislative assembly”, was shot dead in Gilgit city. Fortunately, prudence prevailed and the tragic murder of Mr Zaidi didn’t trigger sectarian clashes in the region. Otherwise, the plot seems to have been executed pretty well: a Shia leader killed in a Sunni locality is enough to unleash the zealots with guns.

That the government needs to win trust of the region’s populace cannot be emphasized more. Confidence building measures, like inclusion of the region into the national political mainstream, dispensation of justice to victims and survivors of the sectarian clashes, including the 1988 tragedy, and emphasizing more on economic development of the region can be three of the many vital steps that are overdue, and hurting.

About the author

Nur momad

Noor is chief editor of Pamir Times (www.pamirtimes.net).
He blogs at www.noorpamiri.com

14 Comments

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  • yes.of course their is a 3rd party behind such attacks and triggering the people to come front with guns.

  • The enemies are fear of unity among gilgitians.because the sects in gilgit are living with peace but some limited people of 3rd party are giving trigger.so the local people should know this fact.

  • Baltistan was an independent state but was occupied by the Raja (King) of Kashmir in the nineteenth century. In 1947 when India and Pakistan gained independence, it was still part of Kashmir. Now the region is divided between Pakistan and India. The districts of Skardu (Skardo) and Ganche, which is a part of the Northern Areas of Pakistan, its main town is Skardu. It contains the highest peaks of the Karakoram, including K2. Indian-controlled Baltistan (the district of Kargil) which is disputed and claimed by Pakistan is located in the north of Indian-administered Kashmir.

  • All the way we need to develop a consensus that we need to improve governance and a socio-economic up-gradation in all parts of the Pakistan. To resolve issues of sectarianism in several parts of Pakistan including Baltistan.. we need to develop patience and for that eductaion is best and possible way..

    i heard about this jalalabad tragedy; amid this Afghan Jihad we invited so much problems for ourselves that were unexplainable.. i still wonder WHY Zia did that

  • Integrating into the mainstream political system of Pakistan would be a grave mistake considering the fact that the people of Baluchistan want to get out of it. What is required is to reduce the social, cultural and adminstrative influence of Pakistan in the Region.

  • The problem is that our nation is not realistic.Everyone extracts information of his own interest from a pool of data, the rest is ignored.e.g. the recent case in Gilgit,that Asad Zaidi was assassinated with other sect person also. No newspaper has indicated that the killing was indifferent to sects. If this kind of realistic coverage will be taken, there will come a balance in the region, But every Channel and Newspaper Editors try to make the news more suspicious and biased.

  • Dear Concerns,
    i don’t know why we blame each other for such horrific incidents in Gilgit-Baltistan. if we are sincere to bring peace in our region, each of us should preach the lesson of unity,patience and brotherhood.In Gilgit-Baltistan there is huge Lacunae of trust and understanding among people.The reason of this mayhem is week local administrative control,unjustness and elusive assurance of federal government authorities. The state authorities must learn lesions form current disaster in swat and adjourning areas. so our humble request to state responsible authorities is to take proactive actions and draw strategies to resole critical issues of Gilgit-Baltistan.
    My request to our younger generation to stand up in this hour of difficulty and lead your society by example. The parents must handover books and pens as weapon to fight against poverty,unjustes and Stringent riots.

  • Actually Gilgit-Baltistan is very peaceful area. If there is a tension of other sectarian, nothing, it is foreign elements. People of that area are united and they are doing their best. I never see peaceful people but in this area. God Blesse them.

  • ive been there last year, there is no visible sectaian or any other tension. they have a good system of administration, everything seems to work fine, and they always have enough electricity. food is cheap and the whole area is extremely secure thanks to army posts nearby.

    they should not do the mistake of establishing provincial govt as the only change it will bring will be to influential families who will use their govts posts to profit themselves and not the people, just like everywhere else in Paksitan.

  • All the way we need to develop a consensus that we need to improve governance and a socio-economic up-gradation in all parts of the Pakistan. To resolve issues of sectarianism in several parts of Pakistan including Baltistan.. we need to develop patience and for that eductaion is best and possible way…

    0345-3402811

  • All the way we need to develop a consensus that we need to improve governance and a socio-economic up-gradation in all parts of the Pakistan. To resolve issues of sectarianism in several parts of Pakistan including Baltistan.. we need to develop patience and for that eductaion is best and possible way…

    0345-3402811

  • Gilgit Baltistan is peaceful of land and the people of Gilgit Baltistan are very kind and peaceful but unfortunately the entire region has been severely divided on sectarian lines since the late eighties, after a group of “Jihadis” attacked a village called Jalalabad, located at the periphery of Gilgit City, and burnt it down, killing men, women, children and even animals, without discrimination. Nothing has since been known about the perpetrators, executioners, financiers and the planners of the attack. No one has been punished, and needless to say, justice has not been done.
    After that attack, launched in 1988 nowhere else, in the entire region, are the sectarian divisions more visible than in Gilgit City. There are Sunni localities and then there are strictly Shia localities. These localities become no – go areas during times of sectarian clashes.

    general Zia is responsible for the current situation of gilgit baltistan and at the day of judgement he is answerable to Allah .