GILGIT: Section 144 has been imposed in Skardu, a day after sectarian violence claimed at least 16 lives and injured over 50 others in Gilgit and Chilas town.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets in Skardu on Wednesday, protesting the killings. Four police officials were injured and a petrol pump was torched by a mob protesting against the Gilgit assault.
Mobile phone services were also jammed in Gilgit on Wednesday. “The step has been taken on the directives of Interior Minister Rehman Malik,” a source said.
Communication came to a standstill following jamming of cell phone services and a strict curfew that was imposed to overcome the riots that broke out after unidentified men lobbed a hand grenade on a protest rally by the Ahle Sunnat Waljamaat (ASWJ) on Tuesday.
It could not be ascertained when the communication system would be restored and the curfew lifted.
Bulletproof vehicles of the army and paramilitary forces were also seen patrolling the deserted roads of Gilgit on Wednesday, while the curfew has also been extended to the adjoining area of Danyore, after a man was killed there.
Meanwhile, more than 20 people, reportedly Sunnis, went missing in Nagar valley on Tuesday, and are yet to be traced. They were kidnapped in reaction to the Chilas incident, where about 10 Shia passengers were killed.
Three of the missing people, including District Health Officer Rasheed, Civil Judge Inayat and Bank Manager Habib, were reportedly abducted by armed men from the vehicle of regional Finance Minister Mohammad Ali Akhtar in Nagar Valley.
According to Bank manager Rashid’s family, he had last contacted them at about 1:45 pm on Tuesday and since then his phone has been switched off.
The Hunza-Nagar district deputy commissioner told The Express Tribune on Tuesday that investigations were underway to recover the missing persons.
Late on Tuesday, the elders of Chilas took some 250 other Shia passengers in custody, including women and children stranded in Chilas, and handed them over safely to the Gilgit administration.
Security forces evacuated dozens of students and teachers who were stranded in schools and colleges in Gilgit in the wake of intense shelling and imposition of the curfew.
All educational institutions were closed and examinations due on Wednesday were postponed.
Protests demanding punishment for the people behind the sectarian violence were held in Skardu, Ghizer and Astore Valley.
G-B governor, CM notably absent
Meanwhile, as Gilgit-Baltistan faces its worst sectarian crisis, the chief minister and governor were notably missing. The two officials are in Garhi Khuda Bakhsh, Sindh to offer fateha for Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on his 33rd death anniversary.
Governor Pir Karam Ali Shah arrived in the federal capital some days ago, while Chief Minister Mehdi Shah left Gilgit for Neudero just as the sectarian riots broke out in the city on Tuesday.
According to witnesses, Shah was interrupted by protestors, who had blocked the road to protest the arrest of one an ASWJ leader, when he was leaving for the airport from his office in Gilgit Tuesday morning.
His motorcade, however, cleared the way for him to ensure that he didn’t miss the flight.
The absence of the top
political leadership in Gilgit has fueled anti-government sentiments in the region, where many are now publicly demanding their resignation.
A statement issued by the office of the International Human Rights Observer (IHRO) G-B chapter said that Shah was only interested in photo sessions, while people continue to suffer. It further held the chief minister, members of the legislative assembly and G-B Council responsible for the bloodshed in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2012.