Pakistan Army on Sunday evacuated more than 100 foreign tourists and aid workers stranded in the restive Gilgit-Baltistan region following a deadly bout of sectarian violence that claimed about 20 lives in the region.
“They (foreigners) were shifted to Islamabad in army aircraft,” sources told The Express Tribune.
With the city under curfew and communication networks jammed for the past six days, the foreigners – mostly Japanese – were stuck in various parts of G-B awaiting rescue.
“Most of them were tourists while others were NGO workers,” sources said, adding that they were shifted in Army C-130 aircraft that flew to Gilgit from Islamabad, making a detour into Skardu to collect the stranded foreigners there as well.
According to sources, nearly 80 of the foreigners were stranded in Hunza Valley while others in Skardu and Gilgit.
According to sources, a special army task force reached Gilgit from Islamabad on Sunday morning and conducted the operation.
A witness claimed to have seen nearly 100 foreigners in a five star hotel in Gilgit, who were later flown to the federal capital.
Sectarian violence broke out in Gilgit on Tuesday after assailants lobbed a hand grenade at a rally called by the Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat (ASWJ), leaving six people dead and 50 injured.
In retaliation, at least 10 members of the Shia community were killed in Chilas as an enraged mob set alight four buses en route to Skardu and Gilgit via the Karakoram Highway.
Meanwhile, 31 persons being held captive in Nagar Valley for the past five days in retaliation for Chilas killings have still not been recovered despite government’s continued negotiations with the community elders.
The kidnapped people include a district health officer from Astore, Dr Rasheed, a civil judge Ayatullah and a banker, apart from 28 labourers. Gilgit remained under curfew for a sixth consecutive day with Pakistan Army contingents, police and rangers patrolling deserted roads. In addition to scheduled PIA flights, traffic on the Karakoram Highway also remained suspended throughout the six days of curfew.
Stranded labourers face starvation
Nearly a hundred labourers from Mohmand and Bajaur Agencies have been stuck in G-B and need urgent help.
Abdul Khaliq, a labourer in Skardu, told The Express Tribune that the names of all the stranded labourers had been forwarded to the Skardu District Coordination Officer (DCO) and the sports minister had been contacted for help as well. “So far, no one has come forward to help us,” he added.
Another labourer, Isaar Gul said they have been without food for the last five days. He added that whenever the curfew was relaxed in order for people to get food, “either someone starts sectarian violence all over again or the shopkeepers refuse to sell anything to us because we are not part of their sect.”
He claimed a colleague of theirs was severely beaten when he went shopping for food items and had to return empty-handed.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2012.