The serene valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan are known as one of the most peaceful territories in the region. Crime is relatively rare, and even though sectarian riots have been seen in Gilgit from time to time, things remain peaceful in most of the area. However, it appears the police operate there just as they do in other parts of the country, with the same degree of brutality and a lack of concern for human life.
Two lives were tragically lost in Gilgit after police opened fire on protesters who were seeking compensation for losses suffered as a result of a massive landslide that created an artificial lake in Attabad last year. A protest was staged outside a bank after people were denied the compensation amount. A father and son died. Six others were injured. It is impossible to believe that this small demonstration from people who had every right to be angry and were in desperate need of funds could not have been controlled without lives being lost. It is understood that the pelting of stones by the small crowd of protesters, one of which hit a police deputy superintendant, led to the decision to open fire. It goes without saying that the action by the crowd hardly put the police in any real danger. The true motive also appears to have been to prevent the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan, Mehdi Shah, witnessing the protest. Shah later cancelled his scheduled visit to Gilgit as protests also spread to Gulmit.
One hopes, however, that he will take note of the terrible incident and order action against the trigger-happy policemen. The people of Attabad have suffered greatly as a result of natural calamity. They were promised compensation last year by the prime minister. More suffering should not be inflicted on them as a result of action by police who apparently have no notion of respect for human life and no training in how to disperse protests peacefully and without violence. It is also important that the compensation due to these victims be handed over. Otherwise we will only see more protests and more suffering in the future.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2011.