Like a wild and destructive bushfire that no force can douse, violence of the very worst kind appears to be taking more and more of our country into its grip, snaking its way into areas that till now had seemed relatively peaceful. The attack on a bus winding its way down the Karakoram Highway in the remote Kohistan district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is being labelled after initial investigations as sectarian in nature. Eighteen people died as armed men opened fire on the vehicle run by a private tourism company. All 25 of the passengers travelling from Gilgit to Rawalpindi are believed to have been Shia. Their CNICs were checked by the assailants before the killing began.
The outfit behind the attack is thought to be linked to a sectarian organisation. This would appear to be the first time they have operated in Kohistan. Questions also arise as to how they knew — or suspected — the sect of the passengers and what information had been leaked out. This aspect of the whole matter needs to be looked into. The news of the ruthless ambush was followed — quite understandably — by angry protests in Chilas and also, of course, deep grief for the families of all those killed during what appears to have been a pre-planned excursion. It seems no place in our country is any longer safe. The fact that the wave of hatred is spreading to new regions is especially dangerous. Just three decades ago no one could have imagined that the Shias of the country, well-integrated for decades with their Sunni neighbours, would be hunted down and killed in so savage a manner. Yet this is exactly what we are seeing today with things rapidly getting worse and worse. Thousands of Shias have been killed over the last decade or so and the state has not done what it should have to protect them from the monster of sectarianism. Others, including top professionals have fled. The government and its intelligence agencies need to act and come down with an iron hand on the monsters behind this sectarian violence. At the same time, an effort must be made to clamp down on the dissemination of hate literature and speech, especially by people pretending to be scholars.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 29th, 2012.