Authorities relaxed a curfew in the violence-hit Gilgit town on Monday to allow residents to replenish food and medical supplies.
Army troops were called out and a curfew was imposed last Tuesday after clashes between Shia and Sunni communities left 16 people dead in the Gilgit-Baltistan region.
Residents were allowed to buy food and medical supplies between 2pm and 5pm. They flocked to local markets to make good use of the relaxation in curfew.
However, communication networks could not be restored – and few motorists and truckers ventured out on the Karakoram Highway, the strategically important route which is the lifeline for local economy.
Since supplies from outside have dried up, food and medical stocks in seven districts of G-B are dwindling rapidly.
After 5pm, the curfew was re-imposed and residents were asked to return to their homes as security forces started patrolling roads and streets amidst a tense calm.
In the meantime, security forces have raided suspected houses in the Basin neighbourhood of the town and detained a dozen men for their suspected involvement in stoking sectarian unrest. They were later shifted to an unknown location for questioning.
Nagir Valley captives
Though G-B has a long history of sectarian unrest – the fresh trouble started on Tuesday when masked men attacked a Sunni rally with a hand grenade in the Shia-dominated Gilgit town, killing six people and injuring dozens more.
Reprisals came from the Sunni-dominated Chilas town, where passenger buses were attacked and then put on fire. At least 10 Shia people were killed in these retaliatory attacks.
In a tit-for-tat, 31 persons, mainly Sunni day labourers from outside G-B, were held hostage in Nagar Valley.
Authorities have been unable to secure their release despite several rounds of talks with the elders of the Shia community.
According to sources, the community has authorised a local cleric, Agha Rahat, to decide the fate of hostages, who include a district health officer from Astore, a civil judge and 29 labourers.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 10th, 2012.