A host of new security measures and a revised compensation package helped avert a standoff between rival sects in Gilgit on Wednesday.
Tensions had peaked in the otherwise simmering region after 16 people belonging to the area, travelling from Rawalpindi to Gilgit, were shot in cold-blooded murder in Kohistan. Outlawed militant group Jundallah claimed responsibility for the attack.
“Rs2 million will be given to the heirs of the dead as compensation,” announced Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who flew to Gilgit early Wednesday.
Prior to the announcement, Malik met with clerics who had turned down the Rs0.5 million compensation package announced by Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) Mehdi Shah. Earlier, the interior minister was briefed on the law and order situation in the region, especially in the aftermath of Tuesday’s killings that have widened the sectarian rift in G-B.
Beefing up security
Malik said that a special highway police would be deployed along the Karakoram Highway (KKH) and that Gilgit Scouts and Rangers would be granted powers to control the law and order situation in Gilgit.
“Half of the expenses on the highway police would be borne by the federal government,” Malik said, adding that additional recruitment in Gilgit Scouts would be made soon.
Tensions escalated in Gilgit after bodies of those killed in the Kohistan sectarian attack were flown in for burial. Protestors refused to bury the dead, demanding the arrest of the militants responsible for the attack, and Rs5 million as compensation to the families of every deceased.
The standoff was resolved, however, after Malik met clerics from both sects.
Fearing a spread of violence, the G-B government announced the closure of government offices and educational institutions till Friday, besides imposing section 144, which prohibits gathering of more than five people at a time in one place.
Elders decry use of Kohistan
Tribal elders at a jirga in Dassu, Kohistan blocked the KKH on Wednesday, in protest against the sectarian attack.
They criticised the attack on Shia pilgrims in Kohistan district, adding that both, the attackers and the deceased, were from G-B and appear to have settled scores against each other.
Distancing themselves from the attack, the elders warned of permanent suspension of vehicular traffic if any local is implicated in the case.
They did, however, offer support to the local police, assuring them of cooperation in the investigation.
Former lawmaker Maulana Dildar Ahmed and tribal elders from across the region were among the 400 participants of the jirga.
District Coordination Officer Kohistan Syed Aqil Shah also rejected the involvement of the local community in the attack, adding that it was the repercussion of the murder of a Sunni man in Chilas in early January this year.
The Sunni community blocked the KKH in Chilas for about four days, demanding the arrest of the attackers, believed to be Shia, and threatened to avenge the murder, the DCO said.
Meanwhile, according to police sources, heavy contingents of elite and paramilitary force and police have been dispatched to expected hideouts of attackers in the hilly areas of Harban Nalla but no arrests were made till the filing of this report.
A joint investigation team headed by Deputy Inspector-General Hazara Dr Naeem Khan has started gathering information in the case.
The federal cabinet condemned the Kohistan incident and the prime minister has called for a crackdown against the culprits, said Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan while addressing the media after the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
The premier directed the interior minister to immediately rush to Gilgit-Baltistan and help the local government control the situation, she added.
(With additional reporting from Muhammad Sadaqat in DASSU KOHISTAN.)
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2012.