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Unrest in Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan

September 7, 2012

Looking at the coverage of leading Indian newspapers, one would feel that Pakistan is soon going to disintegrate and the process will start from Balochistan. Apart from the one-sided picture that Indian media shows, what we Pakistanis need to ask ourselves is that what is going wrong in our country?

Fortunately, a significant number of Pakistanis start feeling that something has went wrong in history. But, the question is: What was it and how and where to start from?

The seventh nuclear power of the world is fighting a 10-year long war while facing some of the toughest challenges in its history. The challenges like weak economy, feeding its armed forces fighting on its long western borders, insurgency in its largest province, religious extremism, and the list goes on…

Months ago, when the political and military leadership of country was busy analyzing the growing international interest in Balochistan, sectarian violence started banging on our heads. From state’s total collapse in Balochistan to the rising number of cold-blooded sectarian killings in Gilgit-Baltistan, one can safely say that things are now out of state’s control. 

From cold-blooded murder of 18 Shia muslims in Kohistan and then 25 in Manshera in the same fashion to the genocide of Hazara community in Quetta, things look completely out of state’s control.

The nature of the killings on Karakoram Highway is not new, as we have seen such incidents in which innocent lives were lost on this same KKH. People who have travelled on KKH, the highway that connects Islamabad to Gilgit and then the other parts of Gilgit-Baltistan, know the crucial importance of this highway to Pakistan.

An important aspect of the continuous sectarian killings in Gilgit-Baltistan is its direct impact on the economy of Gilgit-Baltistan. These incidents are definitely discouraging the national and international tourists. The economy of this region is heavily dependent up on its tourism industry as most of the annual revenues come from March to July –the annual season in which most tourists love to visit this beautiful rugged mountainous region.

The reaction from the people of Gilgit-Baltistan on these particular incidents was not unexpected. Without proper security, KKH is as dangerous as one could think of anything owing to the nature of inescapable rugged mountainous terrain. Following these incidents, the national and international media covered the protests that took place in big cities like Gilgit and Skardu –the two most populous cities of Gilgit-Baltistan.

But the protests in small villages especially those that are near to the Indian border were not covered by any national or international media.

On the eastern side of Skardu, a large number of people from Olding – a village near world-famous Siachen border that touch Indian side of Kashmir, gathered and march past to the Indian border demanding the opening of Indian trade route.

Their basic point was to have an alternative route from where they can continue their line of basic supplies in case they could not connect to KKH in emergency. KKH connects these villages to Skardu and then to Islamabad.

This insecurity in the people of this region is obviously triggered after the Kohistan incident. The area administration -both political and military faced serious difficulties in pacifying the angry crowd. The administration eventually calmed down the people with the help of local religious elders.

All these incidents remind us that we cannot escape from ground realities. Government of Pakistan has to find out the reasons of a serious disconnect between the state and the local people of Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan.

The role that federal government has to play in these circumstances is critical but unfortunately, it does not even know its own direction. When a US congress representative picked up the Baluchistan issue for debate, Rehman Malik suddenly woke up to the gravity of situation in Balochistan and started passing half-baked statements that there is foreign hand in all the evils in Balochistan.

It is clear that neither political leadership nor military establishment is serious in taking up the grave the issues of Baluchistan nor rein-in the banned sectarian organizations that are ruthlessly killing innocent people.

It is time to revisit both internal and foreign policy and stop taking these two distinct yet strategically important regions for granted because we cannot afford another Bangladesh.

Written for this blog only, not published anywhere else.

From → By Farhan Zaheer

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