November 2005 News

No Respite In Gilgit

26 November 2005
The Daily Excelsior

Jammu: Since we last commented in these columns on the situation in Gilgit, which is part of the State under Pakistan's illegal occupation, there have been a series of developments. A grand jirga (a Pashto term for an assembly of elders of a region) has signed a peace agreement. In pursuance of this two committees consisting of prominent members of the warring Shia and Sunni sects have been set up. They in turn are reaching the families affected in the recent wave of violence with a forget-and-forgive mission. According to proposals finalised by the jirga the mosques of Gilgit which have been sealed because of their misuse for spreading hatred among the people will be unlocked if certain conditions are met. For instance, the places of worship will not again be turned into theatres for carrying out political and sectarian propaganda or headquarters of one group or the other. Their working will be subjected to continuous monitoring by a six-member committee headed by the local Deputy Commissioner. Action has been suggested against those using sectarian cover, slogans and cards to contest elections of the Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC) and local bodies. There has been a demand for altogether banning sectarian groups. A sidelight will interest the citizens on either side of the Pir Panjal. Official celebrations have not been held in Gilgit this year to mark its 58th 'liberation' day. The day is observed to pay tributes to 'martyrs' who had taken on the Dogra regime in 1947. It is an example of how history is torn out of context. Nevertheless dispassionate observers know and acknowledge that Gilgit has been in constitutional limbo since its 'independence'. Nothing underlines this reality more than the fact that Gilgit does not have any democratic environment. This has added fuel to the anger of original local inhabitants. That is why despite its powerful presence Pakistan has not been able to commemorate the 'liberation'. As it is life and business have been out of gear for more than one year. Facts about Gilgit speak for themselves: (a) about 100 persons have died in sectarian bloodshed and clashes between the Shia majority and Pakistani forces during the last 18 months; (b) three times curfew has been imposed first in June last year and then in January and October 2005 (it continues to be in force partially even these days); (b) both Shias and Sunnis are fully armed (the latter got encouragement during the erstwhile Zia-ul-Haq regime in Islamabad); (d) all-round feeling of insecurity; (e) frequent closure of educational institutions and commercial establishments critically affecting economy; (f) huge daily expenditure by Pakistan to maintain its forces in the region; (g) the NALC although an elected body of local people is a toothless tiger as the real power vests in the Pakistan Army and bureaucracy (the key official in charge of the territory sits in Islamabad); and (h) the absence of a proper investigation system and the judiciary. It is only too well known that Pakistan had at one time planned to subvert the demographic profile of the region. Last year it did initiate efforts to politically empower the local population but gave up without carrying them to a logical conclusion. As a result it is unable to enlist much cooperation at the ground level and the NALC which could have been an effective democratic forum remains as helpless as the Pakistan Government evidently is in the prevailing circumstances. It is doubtful whether Islamabad's move to arrest religious clerics (belonging to both the sects) exposed to the charge of creating sectarian cleavage will solve its headache. Looked from the law and order angle such a measure is unavoidable but it has to be simultaneously backed by attempts to win over the people. Islamabad may gain temporary respite if the jirga-approved proposals find wider acceptance. A better course for it will be to address democratic aspirations of the citizens of all hues particularly the Shia majority. For too long the attempts have been made to browbeat them into silence. If they are permitted to speak up for themselves they may lead a way out of the present mess.

 

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