By Faiza Mirza
“He was a great man because nothing could mar his spirit. His conviction to battle against all the odds and injustices of our system, amongst many other qualities, will always keep him alive,” is how Agha Syed Abbas Rizvi recalls his 30-year-old brother who was killed near Chilas amidst a renewed spate of sectarian violence in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Agha Roohullah was one of the unfortunate passengers who was travelling to Gilgit when an unruly mob of 3,000 people attacked the bus and killed many people on the basis of their sect. Roohullah, who retaliated when the mob attacked the crying, was shot countless times in the chest for his courage.
His body was thrown into a mountainous pit, discovered a week ago by personnel from security forces.
“My mother wants justice and we all want to see the culprits responsible for killing my brother behind bars,” are Rizvi’s sentiments which concur with the emotions of hundreds of people fighting for their survival in Gilgit-Baltistan.
The questions, that dictated the order of my day after conversing with Rizvi, were what measure is the government taking to stop or prevent this annihilation? Is it wise of the natives to expect positive news from the government and other citizens? Will we ever pay heed to the demands specifically outlined by the families of countless victims who lost their lives defending their honour? The fact that we all knwo the answer speaks volumes about our moral death not just as a nation but also as individuals.
Once a serene paradise for tourists, deprivation and doom now prevails in the area. Everyone, regardless of their economic and social background is now forced to regret their accession to the State of Pakistan in 1948, for reasons that we all know.
Curfews which were imposed to control the law and order situation have done nothing but disrupt life in Gilgit-Baltistan. Stories of clashes and casualties still make the headlines, whereas the perpetrators of these acts roam at large.
Insecurity and a sense of pending doom hovers over the general population. Lack of trust amongst the best of friends and neighbours is creating an ever-widening rift between the locals, hence creating isolated factions that consider themselves under siege.
“It is difficult to trust people now. Friends that we have known for eons also seem to be different and ironically, most of us know that nothing has changed, however, the feeling that anybody can harm us has changed our relationships,” said Iqbal Essa Khan, a student and a citizen journalist who writes to create awareness about issues affecting Gilgit-Baltistan.
“Our parents feel uncomfortable and try to stop us from staying out late. The psychological trauma is more damaging than the physical threat that we face,” he added.
Whilst talking to people belonging to different social classes and sects, it was clear that they were extremely pessimistic about their future. From businessmen to students and from mothers to brothers, each individual was dissatisfied with government’s inability to recognise them as equal and law abiding citizens of Pakistan. Each person had complaints over the imminent lack of support and assistance from other parts of the country.
A young student, on condition of anonymity said, “We have always been marginalized. To be honest I do not feel a part of Pakistan and I despise the high and mighty people of other cities. Whether we go to Lahore, Karachi or Islamabad, the residents discriminate against us and treat us like aliens. They look down upon us just because we look and speak differently.” Shaken to the core, by the force of his words, I went looking for answers.
Rashid Sami, a famous media person and son of Malika Baltistani, on being asked about the general state of affairs and condition of the locals in the area said, “The issue of Gilgit-Baltistan is considered intertwined with the Kashmir issue, however, now the government must act and provide us with provincial autonomy in the real sense. State subject rule should be imposed and appropriate resources pertaining to health and education should be provided to the locals.”
“The only way to avoid catastrophes like the Kohistan bus attack is to develop alternative travelling routes and empower the local people. The common people of Gilgit-Baltistan want to live harmoniously and I believe that the ‘perpetrators’ of sectarian clashes are exported from elsewhere to destabilise the region. The miscreants are motivated to harm Pakistan as Gilgit-Baltistan has great strategic significance for the country,” added Sami.
Whilst reiterating the demands of the locals Sami said, “I have heard people chanting that their sun will now rise in Kargil instead of Islamabad, which is a perturbing sign.”
His words and the account of events he narrated reaffirmed that many people in Gilgit-Baltistan are in support of a separate state because ‘begging for help from the government’ is an option that they have tried one too many times.
Insecurity, fear, mutilated dead bodies, hatred towards the unfair regime and poverty are the rulers of Gilgit-Baltistan. How can we not expect people to retaliate and become terrorists when we deprive them of food, accommodation and most importantly their right to live? By labeling citizens of the same country as inferior, superior, top priority and least priority, we achieve nothing but discontentment of people.
“The more there are riots, the more repressive action will take place, and the more we face the danger of a right-wing takeover and eventually a fascist society,” very aptly said Martin Luther King Junior. The bigotry, which perhaps affects each one of us from time to time, will soon seep into the pillars of our system, so much so that we will stop resisting and questioning the system, and will submit to the injustices.
Ethnic divergence, being the root-cause of violence, which has paralysed various cities and districts of all our provinces, will continue unless concrete measure are undertaken to secure the futures of the natives.
It is time to empower the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and accept them as equal citizens by providing them with social and economic platforms to exercise their rights. It is time to save them from the arbitrary regime and restore their dignity.—Dawn.com