Deadly Sunday: In G-B, sectarian unrest boils over

Published: April 4, 2012

Hand grenade thrown at ASWJ rally, city turns into battleground between rival sects after the attack. PHOTO: MUHAMMAD JAVED/EXPRESS/FILE

GILGIT: 

Authorities clamped a curfew in the Gilgit-Baltistan region and called out the army after 16 people were killed and dozens wounded in one of the worst bouts of sectarian violence in the region.

Clashes erupted between Shia and Sunni communities early Tuesday after masked motorcyclists attacked a rally staged by the G-B chapter of Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat [ASWJ] to protest the detention of one of its leaders.

According to witnesses, when protesters reached near the Gari Bagh neighbourhood of Gilgit city, masked motorcyclists hurled a hand grenade at them, resulting in the death of five. Many more were wounded. Some witnesses said an Elite Force policeman threw the grenade at the protesting crowd.

A local police official, however, gave a different account. “Unidentified gunmen opened fire on a group of Sunnis while they were appealing to people to shut their shops in response to a strike call,” police official Ali Sher told AFP. He added that officers were investigating reports of a hand grenade attack.

After the grenade attack, the area resounded with intense gunfire and volunteers shifted the injured to nearby hospitals in the hail of bullets. Medics said 10 of the injured were in critical condition.

Officials confirmed that six people were killed in the attack including an official of the Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) Scout and many more wounded.

When the news of grenade attack reached the Sunni-majority Chilas town, vengeful mob ran amok, burning passenger buses and firing at Shia community people. Officially, 10 deaths were confirmed in Chilas – while many more were injured.

Over 250 Shias were also taken hostage in Chilas. However, later in the evening they were handed over to the G-B administration.

As the back-and-forth violence continued, at least 20 people working in Nagar town were reportedly abducted and shifted to unidentified locations by the locals. However, there was no official confirmation of this.

In the meanwhile, violence spread to parts of Gilgit town, including Baseen, Amphery, Jutial, Nargal, Kashrote, Majini Muhalla Barmas and Khomer, pushing the security forces to the barracks.

As firing intensified, announcements were made from the main Sunni mosque, asking people to refrain from violence. At about 10 am announcements were made officially about the imposition of a curfew. People were asked to stay indoors or else be at risk of being shot.

However, the announcement made little impact as heavy gunfire kept on rattling the city till 4 pm when the military finally took over the city.

Gilgit has a long history of sectarian violence starting from as early as the 1970s. The recent bout of sectarian unrest was triggered by the targeted massacre of 16 Shia passengers of buses in the Kohistan district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in February.

On the advice of the top Shia cleric in the region, transporters introduced a new Shia-only transport service on a new route in Gilgit city. In retaliation, the Sunnis also created new routes for their community.

On Sunday, police cancelled the route permits of the sect-based buses and impounded them on Sunday. Shia protesters called a strike against the move.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2012.

Reader Comments (14)

  • Jibran
    Apr 4, 2012 - 5:55AM

    Pakistan is heading towards the “right” direction. Thanks to the seeds sowed by Zia-ul-Haq, and then Mirza Aslam Beg and Hamid Gul. If we extrapolate correctly, 25 years from now, Pakistan will be India’s Afghanistan or Kenya’s Somalia.
    Good luck and keep it up!

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  • softy
    Apr 4, 2012 - 6:38AM

    hahaha, AZAD KASHMIR where you are azad to murder anyone. and you want Indian Kashimir to give then this AZADI.

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  • ASHOK
    Apr 4, 2012 - 7:23AM

    What do all these peaceful people do otherwise when they are not participating in a rally?

    I am amazed to see the sea of Muslims in such remote area joining the rally organized by the Sunnis who are in minority in G-B region.

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  • Jibran
    Apr 4, 2012 - 7:56AM

    When the news of grenade attack reached the Sunni-majority Chilas town, vengeful mob ran amok, burning passenger buses and firing at Shia community people. Officially, 10 deaths were confirmed in Chilas – while many more were injured.Over 250 Shias were also taken hostage in Chilas.

    Reminds me of the communal Violence erupted in Gujrat in 2002.

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  • Umar
    Apr 4, 2012 - 8:12AM

    both are fanatics.

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  • Indian
    Apr 4, 2012 - 8:49AM

    This is a CIA, Mossad and RAW conspiracy to break and defame Pakistan!!!

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  • hajjiali
    Apr 4, 2012 - 9:11AM

    Its pakistani government duty to protect all its minorities or else face violence against stat.

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  • Yasir
    Apr 4, 2012 - 9:35AM

    G.B. historically has been a peaceful area with sectarian diversity. Seems like its catchin up with the rest of the country.

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  • Mard-e-Haq
    Apr 4, 2012 - 9:44AM

    It is high time that Gilgit-Baltistan be turned into a Shia-dedicated province. It also offers them a degree of protection from unwarranted persecution and killings from fanatical elements within the Sunni hirearchy. If Pakistan was formed as a home for the subcontinent’s Muslims, why not a create province for the significant and patriotic Shia minority? Is the government afraid of reaction from the US and Saudi Arabia?

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  • Zaid
    Apr 4, 2012 - 10:19AM

    There is no justice in Pakistan and there is no government in this country… Rulers are all busy settling there own scores
    there is a firm need to hit back the fanatics who think they can go on killing Shiites and declare anyone as kafir!

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  • Mir nawaz
    Apr 4, 2012 - 10:23AM

    Why are they made to fight against each other, and what is the Philosophy behind the ” SECTARIAN VOILENCES”?

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  • Grown Up
    Apr 4, 2012 - 10:53AM

    @Jibran: why not include ZAB (the BD boy!) and Ayyub Khan & company to the cultivator’s list as the news report above suggests that the sectarian violence started in 70s!? I know it would hurt your jingo-liberalism but keeping one eye closed is not doing anything…

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  • Grown Up
    Apr 4, 2012 - 11:40AM

    @Mard-e-Haq: I guess it is high time for the both the communities to show maturity. It is high time for the Sunni people to identify and stop those fanatics who are stopping vehicles and killing innocent people and at the same time it is high time for Shia clerics to identify and stop those mad creatures who are hurling hand grenades.

    We are not doing anything but killing each other.

    @Mir nawaz: the “Philosophy” behind that is the distrust and the survival threat which is a not-so-unique-selling-proposition of the religious business at both ends.

    Btw, for those who always found convenient escape goats, this friction had been there even before the advent of RAW, CIA, ISI, Moosad, Gen Zia, Hameed Gul, Zardari, Bhuttos et all…

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  • Apr 4, 2012 - 5:05PM

    @Jibran:
    Zia past dictator and the above named persons were the worst enemies of Pakistan.
    Taliban & all attacks on civilians, army & govt officials are illegtimate seeds by Zia.

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