For quite some time now, Gilgit-Baltistan’s scenic Diamer Valley has been in the spotlight, but for all the wrong reasons. It all began in 2011-12, when passenger buses travelling on the Karakoram Highway were attacked and their passengers butchered on sectarian grounds. A year later, armed men wearing army uniforms, stormed a base camp in Nanga Parbat, killing 10 foreign mountaineers. It doesn’t end there. The security officials investigating the high-profile murders of the mountaineers also fell prey to terrorists in the days that followed the attack.
After a brief pause, the district made headlines again in 2015. First, for barring women from voting and then blaming a djinn for the abduction and subsequent murder of a four-year-old child. In addition to this, there was also an incident last month where two officials were kidnapped, although this failed to draw media attention.
With a population of over 0.2 million, Diamer is one of the 10 districts in Gilgit-Baltistan, sharing boundaries with Kohistan in Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa. Just like its neighbour, Diamer’s society is deeply patriarchal and heavily influenced by orthodox clergy. Class stratification runs deep, as Sheen and Yashkun tribes wield political, social and economic clout. While it comprises 77 per cent of the total forest-cover in Gilgit-Baltistan, the valley is lagging far behind on many other fronts.
According to Alif Ailaan Pakistan District Education Rankings 2015, Diamer is ranked 95 out of 148 districts in terms of education and 127 in terms of infrastructure and facilities.
The literacy rate among women is close to zero, while hardly 15 per cent of the men are educated. These dismal statistics speak volumes about how the valley has been kept backward by successive governments over the decades. Instead of providing basic civil rights, solution for every problem has been sought through jirgas and the use of force.
Admittedly, the locals have lacked initiative, unlike those in other districts, and have also barred NGOs from launching education and health projects. But there is no reason for the government not to launch such projects.
Diamer serves as a gateway to Gilgit-Baltistan and is the first defence against the Taliban from Fata. An educated Diamer is undoubtedly in the interest of Gilgit-Baltistan and the rest of Pakistan. The government must, without any delay, take emergency measures and initiate education campaigns in the valley if it really wants to do away with terrorism. Resorting to brute force and blaming the illiterate and ignorant will not help any more.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 4th, 2015.