ISLAMABAD: The closure of two major road links to Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) in the wake of the massacre of 20 bus passengers at Lulusar area of Naran valley on Thursday has left many people from the region unable to celebrate Eid with their families in their hometowns.
The holidays turned nightmare for many families in G-B when terrorists in army uniform hauled passengers from four buses going to Astor and Skardu. They were sprayed with bullets after their identification. The gruesome act sent shock and fear across the region, with most people cancelling their travel plans and many others left stranded in Rawalpindi and Islamabad or mid-route.
Transporters also suspended service through the Karakoram Highway (KKH) to and from G-B to avoid any similar incident during Eid. Although a few people did try to go to G-B through Chitral via the Shandur Pass, which takes more than twice as long and requires travelling on a number of dilapidated roadways.
“I was shocked by this massacre. It is the third incident in six months on this route. My family insisted I cancel my trip to Skardu to celebrate Eid with them,” said Mehdi Hussain, a distraught passenger roaming around the Pirwadhai bus terminal after being unable to find any seat for the longer route. “Even this route is not safe for those whose names imply they are Shia,” he asserted. “Either we have to convince our families to move down to the cities or we have to quit our jobs to avoid the need for risky travel,” he lamented. Mehdi condemned the government’s approach to the heinous incidents and its continuous failure to protect innocent citizens from the violent actions of a handful of terrorists.
A soldier returning to Pakistan from a UN Mission in Congo wanted to celebrate Eid with his family, but could not go home due to the same threats. “I came back after a long time specifically to celebrate Eid with my family, but I can’t because of this unfortunate event,” he said.
“How can we travel knowing our people are being butchered,” said Aslam Ali, who is from Nagar Valley in G-B. He questioned why the government is not assigning army personnel to escort passenger buses and why troops have not been deployed on the KKH despite repeated demands from local people.
The provincial governments of G-B and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) have failed to ensure the safety of passengers on the KKH in their respective jurisdictions. This is the third time that such a heinous incidents took place — one in G-B and two in K-P. Instead of formulating an effective security strategy on securing the route, the governments are only playing the blame game.
Sher Khan, an official of Mashabrum Transport Service, said they have suspended their service again for three days due to security threats.
He lamented that the government failed to give security to passengers and transporters, which not only results in the loss of lives, but also impacts the entire region financially and socially as well.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2012.
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