GILGIT: Even as lives were lost and blood spilt during last week’s sectarian violence in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B), the community of Chilas managed to save at least 200 Shia passengers – including women and children – and swiftly shift them to areas where they would be out of harm’s way.
The passengers were travelling from Rawalpindi to Gilgit and Skardu, and had just reached the town of Chilas when sectarian violence broke out in Gilgit after unidentified men attacked a Sunni rally with hand grenades, killing six people and injuring 50 others.
The violence led to the imposition of a curfew in the city.
The saving of human lives in Chilas, however, was overshadowed by the killing of 10 Shias in reaction to the hand grenade attack at the Sunni rally in Gilgit. The vehicle of the top Sunni cleric in Gilgit-Baltistan, Qazi Nisar, also came under fire, leaving his driver injured.
“When the news of the grenade attack and firing on the cleric’s vehicle reached Chilas, an infuriated mob was present in the valley where a convoy of buses had just reached from Rawalpindi. They attacked Shia passengers in the buses with sticks, guns, and stones and killed many of them,” a senior police official in Chilas told i.
According to another senior police official, Jamsheed Ahmed, who himself was injured along with four other policemen while escorting the buses, more than 3,000 men attacked the convoy.
While the killing spree continued outside, the almost 200 helpless Shia passengers were stuck inside the buses, waiting for what they thought was the inevitable to happen.
When hope was almost lost, clerics and other residents from the area picked up the Shia passengers, and transferred them to their own houses for the night where they provided them with food, shelter and security.
Two people – Leevar Khan and Shah Nasir – reportedly played a key role in saving the passengers lives.
The next day, hundreds of residents themselves arranged for transportation for the threatened passengers and accompanied them up to Jaglot, where they further negotiated with a violent mob until the passengers were safely handed over to the administration.
The account was verified from various independent sources in Chilas and Gilgit later.
Meanwhile, 34 Sunni hostages released on Tuesday from Nagar valley were moved out of the restive city of Gilgit. “Under security cover, they were shifted to their native areas,” police said, adding that most of the captives were from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and were labourers.
After their release, they were brought to the chief minister’s office in Gilgit, officials said, confirming that the number of hostages released was 34 and they were all in good health.
The hostages had been kidnapped in retaliation to the killing of the 10 members of the Shia community.
Meanwhile, residents continued to suffer a shortage of food and other basic necessities due to the strict curfew.
Similarly, cellular services remained blocked and traffic on the Karakoram highway stayed suspended. There was no word when these services will be restored.
Security officials also continued raids in the Kashrote and Nagral areas and recovered illegal arms, a police official told The Express Tribune, without giving details of the operation which has been ongoing since the curfew was imposed.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 12th, 2012.