January 2005 News

Heal Gilgit's Wounds

13 January 2005
The News International
Ahsan Wali Khan

Islamabad: Gilgit bleeds again. This time, it started on January 8, 2005 with the attempted murder of a prominent religious leader, Agha Ziaudin Rizvi - he was injured while two of his bodyguards and an attacker were killed. His supporters, some of them armed, embarked on a violent rampage that killed twelve innocent people and damaged or burnt property worth millions, including dozens of private and public vehicles. The government imposed curfew and called in the military to restore calm. An infantry unit was sent to reinforce the army division Force Command Northern Areas that was called in for this purpose, as there is no major unit stationed there. Gilgit's top civil administration officials rushed back after the incident as they were all in Islamabad on one pretext or the other. Five senior- most police officers of the Northern Areas area were already suspended under National Accountability Bureau cases related to non- custom paid vehicles. The situation is tense and there is a state of fear and panic in the area. The curfew has led to women and children being stranded at different places without any possibility of reaching their homes and families. The people's woes are exacerbated by a shortage of food and fuel for cooking and heating in the harsh cold weather, while the sick have no way to get to a doctor or procure medicine. By imposing curfew instead of going aggressively after the few lawbreakers, the government only adds to the misery of the innocent majority. This has become the usual way of governance. The administration should ensure the writ of law, instead of following a fruitless policy of appeasement. Miscreants and criminals need to know they will be nabbed and face trial and the victims appropriately compensated. The deadly experience of June 2004 should have pushed the administration to formulate contingency plans for such eventualities. Then too, curfew was imposed for seven consecutive days after bloody clashes over the issue of the Islamiat syllabus. The government has failed to protect the life and property of its citizens. The military and civil administration must be held accountable and responsible heads should roll for not ensuring sufficient security. Investigations about the attackers and reasons behind the attempt on the life of Agha Ziauddin must yield results, and the murderers of each innocent victim of the January 8 incident apprehended. There needs to be an across the board crackdown against criminals, murderers and instigators. The dangerous phenomena of organized teenagers armed with lethal weapons killing people under the blanket provided by the mob needs to be rooted out by apprehending each one. The history of the ongoing sectarian-related violence in the area dates back to the eighties. Thousands of innocent people have perished here since then, and property worth millions destroyed, but there is little documentation about the arrest and punishment of those responsible - thanks to the low priority accorded to the area by consecutive governments and the policy of sweeping serious issues under the carpet. The sensitivity of the sectarian issue in the area is well known yet no concrete steps are taken to prevent such incidents. This reflects the apathy of the administration that has become hostage to a few miscreants with vested interests. Gilgit-Baltistan deserves a full-time potent government. The present chief executive, Minister for Kashmir Affair s and Northern Areas (KANA) cannot function from Islamabad. Executive powers must be transferred to locally elected representatives in Gilgit and a strong governor appointed for supervision of the area. There is no mention of Gilgit-Baltistan (Northern Areas) in the constitution of Pakistan or the interim constitution of AJK. The area is a classical example of constitutional neglect. The Northern Area Legislative Council (NALC) elections culminated this past October without any real transfer of power to the elected members because the Minister for KANA remains the Chief Executive. The Northern Areas people are accorded the lowest priority in terms of constitutional as well as human rights. There is no sign of introducing even the local government system in the area. KANA continues to play the role of an obstructionist and enjoys undisputed monopoly over the area and its people. Despite a clear verdict by Supreme Court on the issue in 1999, the Northern Area people's ever-increasing and legitimate demand for an interim constitutional status pending the settlement of Kashmir continues to fall on deaf ears. The Gilgit tragedy needs a focused approach keeping the law and order situation strictly under control. For this, the administration needs to make an all-out effort to apprehend the murderers and plotters without discrimination. Simultaneously a comprehensive compensation package for the families of those killed and injured, and to whose property and vehicles have been damaged and-or burnt needs to be announced and paid immediately. The miseries of the people caught in the curfew needs to be minimized by relaxing the curfew to enable them to at least shop for their daily supplies and enable the stranded people to reach homes. Above all the government must enforce the writ of law to prevent such mishaps in the future. The writer is a freelance contributer from the Northern Areas.


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