Zahid Ali is one of the hundreds of people surviving on daily wages who have been rendered jobless by sectarian violence that led to the imposition of round-the-clock curfew in the capital city last week.
The city now wears a deserted look, with army and paramilitary troops patrolling the roads day and night to stem chances of any further violence.
Ali, 30, is a carpenter from Sialkot who had recently arrived in Gilgit and was employed as a daily wage labourer in the city. He also ran pushcart in his free time to earn money for his family back home.
But the imposition of curfew on April 3 after eruption of sectarian violence left him stranded at his workplace, depriving him of any further chance of earning an income.
“I am jobless now and whatever I had saved was spent on food during the curfew,” he told The Express Tribune.
According to a rough estimate, the ongoing crisis and curfew have affected more than 10,000 people working on daily wages in Gilgit city alone.
Like thousands of residents, Zahid went to a nearby market and purchased some medicines and food items when the curfew was relaxed, which have eaten up his savings.
Curfew was clamped on the city after riots broke out when unidentified men attacked a rally of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat with hand grenades. The city has been gripped by sectarian tension since that day and life has come to a complete standstill.
Ali said that he used to earn Rs350 a day and was expecting an increase in income in the days ahead. But his hopes were dashed like those of thousands of others who work on daily wages to make ends meet.
“What I want now is to go back to my city and my family as chances of finding any kind of work in Gilgit in the near future are now bleak,” he said.
The closure of the Gilgit-Rawalpindi corridor on the Karakoram Highway has made it impossible for people to leave the region by surface transport.
Flights between Islamabad and Gilgit have also been cancelled, effectively trapping people in the city.
Sitting idle in his cabin where he used to work till evening, Zahid now prays the whole time for the highway to reopen for traffic so he can go back home.
But nobody knows when he will be able to go back home.
A senior police official when contacted said that a decision regarding the resumption of traffic on the KKH would be taken only after the situation returns to normal. For now, Zahid is stuck in Gilgit.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2012.