Five people allegedly involved in the Kohistan massacre have been arrested, claimed Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who flew into Gilgit early Saturday.
It was his second visit to Gilgit this month and came after the Shia community resumed protests late Friday against the ‘non-serious attitude’ of the government in accepting their demands; including the arrest of culprits; compensation for the heirs of the victims of the sectarian attack and creating a special highway force for the Karakoram Highway.
Local clerics had earlier set March 8 as the deadline for the government to grant their demands or else they would launch protests across the Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) region.
“The perpetrators have been traced through a cell phone call and five of them have been arrested,” Malik told reporters soon after meeting with delegations representing Sunni and Shia communities at the Chief Minister Secretariat. The interior minister, however, refused to divulge details, saying the issue was sensitive.
Flanked by Chief Minister Mehdi Shah, Governor Pir Karam Ali Shah and representatives of the Shia community, Malik said that the involvement of ‘foreign hands’ could not be ruled out in last month’s ambush on a passenger bus which had left 16 people dead. “If the involvement of foreign hand is established, our ties with neighbouring countries could be affected,” he said.
The interior minister said that compensation worth Rs 2 million would be handed to each victim’s family, of which half was to be provided by the federal government and the rest by the G-B government. Accepting another demand, he announced government jobs for victims’ relatives.
Referring to security measures, he said that more police checkpoints would be set up but the local government would decide locations for these new posts. In addition, the number of flights to and from Gilgit would be increased according to the demands of local people.
Malik also announced special police powers for Rangers, bringing their powers at par with the police and G-B scouts, but clarified that no major operation in the region was in the works. He added that peace jirgas along with security forces would be restored for peace in Gilgit.
Agha Rahat Hussain, a top Shia cleric in G-B, said that the people expected Malik to revisit Gilgit after 15 days to share progress on the arrests and other commitments made by the minister.
Not everyone was satisfied with the interior minister’s acquiescence to their demands, however. Sectarian temperatures ran high as thousands of enraged people blocked the Karakoram Highway (KKH) in Chilas after Malik, on the demands of Shia clerics, suspended a senior police official, Shah Faisal, deputed in Chilas valley.
“The decision is one-side as the government is under pressure from a certain group,” said the protesters who reached Chilas the main town in Diamer valley early Saturday.
“Enough is enough, we will not let it happen,” said a protester, addressing a crowd of over 8,000 people. Most of the demonstrators were affiliated with political and religious parties.
Meanwhile, a powerful delegation from different valleys of Diamer reached Gilgit to meet the interior minister. It was unclear till the filing of this report if the meeting actually took place, as Malik was scheduled to return to the capital soon after his press conference.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 11th, 2012.
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