Kashmir: Sectarian Violence burns Gilgit Baltistan

Jammu & Kashmir POK - Pakistan Occupied Kashmir

Violent sectarian clashes erupted between the residents of Chilas and Skardu when one Skardu based Shia scholar, Alama Zaqi Baqar, gave a provoking statement against Ahl-e-Sunnat and ‘Muavia’ Sahaba e Rasool. In response, the Sunni dominant residents of Chilas have warned Pak Govt to take action against the said leader or else they will kill the Skardu residents if they use the Karakoram Highway. One Maulana Abdul Malik, President of Diamer Ulema Council, asked the Sunni populace to come together and awaken against the blasphemy against Ahl-e-Sunnat. He warned Pak govt to take strict action and register FIR against the Shia scholar or they would not be responsible if the situation gets worsened. The Chilas protestors have blocked the KKH highway leaving thousands of tourists and travelers stranded.

In response, Skardu based Shia community is under fear and is dissatisfied with the security arrangements of Pak establishment. Under fear and skepticism of using KKH, the people of Skardu lead by leaders like Shabbir Mayar, Najaf Ali are raising their voice to open the Kargil road instead, for fulfilling their daily needs and essential items from India.

Gilgit-Baltistan region is a Shia-majority region, illegally controlled by Pakistan. The poor economic conditions and the absence of good educational institutions has led to a mushrooming of madrasas that preach sectarian hatred and extremism. The fragile political system, along with an ineffective judicial system of the region has aggravated the sectarian violence further.

In recent times, however, KKH has become indispensable for fulfilling the needs of the people in GB; however, those in Gilgit often complain that the road at the same time enables an increased influx of suspect and alien persons from other parts of Pakistan into their area. While Shias feel hesitation to travel on the highway between Gilgit and Islamabad, in order to avoid the Sunni areas of Diamer District and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sunnis also avoid traveling to the north, fearing the Shia areas of Nagar and Chilas. Therefore, the KKH has become a major battleground in the sectarian strife. Shia dominated areas of Skardu want to reconnect with Kargil in Ladakh region & India in general in order to avoid the KKH and the Pakistani link which has been discriminatory towards them.

The region has been a victim of the divide and rule tactic of the Pakistani establishment. The Army, the ISI and other powerful stakeholders have always looked at the region in terms of its tactical value of keeping India at bay and pitting the communities against each other to serve their own interests.

All these issues have had a cumulative effect in promoting sectarian violence in the region.