The week-long ordeal of over two dozen people taken hostage in a remote valley of the Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) region ended on Tuesday.
Authorities secured the release of 31 hostages – including a district health officer from Astore, a civil judge and 29 day labourers from outside G-B – following successful negotiations with the captors.
The men were taken hostage by armed men in the Shia-dominated Nagar Valley last Tuesday in retaliation for the lynching of 10 people in Chilas Valley.
“The release followed eight days of negotiations between Shia clerics and government officials,” a source told The Express Tribune. “The men have been released and will be brought to Gilgit by Tuesday night,” added another source.
However, there was no official confirmation of the release.
Sources said that Shia clerics Agha Rahat and Sheikh Mirza Ali played the key role in securing the release of hostages as the captors had authorised them to decide the fate of the men.
On April 3 sectarian violence broke out in G-B following a hand grenade attack on a Sunni rally that killed six people and wounded dozens more. Incensed by the killings, Sunnis struck back in Chilas Valley, where they set passenger buses on fire. Ten Shia community members were killed in the melee.
In retaliation, armed men seized 31 people in Nagar Valley including the judge and the health officer while they were travelling with the region’s finance minister, Mohammad Ali Akhtar.
The G-B government had formed a team – headed by the region’s law minister Wazir Shakil – to negotiate with the captors and secure the release of hostages.
Meanwhile, tense calm prevailed in Gilgit while security forces conducted raids in different neighbourhoods of the town in a hunt for troublemakers. Sources said six people were detained in a raid in the Napur locality.
Authorities relaxed the curfew for three hours – from 2pm to 5 pm – for a second day on Tuesday to allow residents replenish food and medical supplies.
However, the region is virtually cut off from the rest of the country as communication networks remain suspended. And little traffic on the arterial Karakoram Highway has created shortage of supplies in G-B.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2012.