Bus services from Rawalpindi to Gilgti-Baltistan (G-B) have once again been suspended after a fresh instigation of sectarian violence in the region.
Amid tight curfew and a volatile security situation in G-B, the passengers stranded at the Pirwadhai bus stand are being forced to either wait till the situation improves, or opt for an alternate route thought Chitral, via Shandur Pass.
For the alternate route, one has to pay twice the current fare, spending two additional days in transit, and – to put a cherry on top – cross on foot one of the highest border passes of the country, Shandur top, to reach Gilgit.
Despite the obvious horrors of the alternate route, some passengers are inclined to opt for it, instead of spending days, or maybe months, waiting to get back to their hometowns.
Sharing the exact sentiments, Kalimullah, said, “I know it will be a difficult journey, there will be limited food and it will cost a lot more, but I am still willing to go – I just want to get back home.” Kalimullah has been coming to the Pirwadhai bus stand regularly for the past three days to hitch a bus back to his hometown Gilgit, but to no avail.
A number of passengers stranded at the bus stand denounced the government for failing to ensure security for commuters on the Karakoram Highway (KKH), arguably the longest and most dangerous highways of the country.
“This is clearly a failure of the government as it has succumbed to the pressure of a few rioters and given them a free hand,” said Ahmed Nawaz, who, has been stuck in Rawalpindi along with his family for the past five days.
He said the people had demanded the government to deploy army personnel along KKH to ensure security for Shia commuters, “but the government refuses to address our reservations”.
“We are all Muslims and should not kill each other on the basis of how we perform our religious obligations. What message are we giving to the people of other religions?” said an elderly man, Noor Khan. He lauded the bravery of the people who protected some Shia passengers, while they were being hauled off busses and killed at Harban.
Sher Khan, an official of Mashabrum Transport Service, said there is “no chance” that the bus service to G-B would resume in the next four days. He said it is the government’s responsibility to ensure foolproof security to the commuters and to the busses that they travel in.
Three of their busses have been gutted since sectarian violence erupted in G-B.
When contacted, Inspector General of Police G-B Hussain Asghar did not give an exact date on which bus services would be resumed, but he gave the assurance that it would be sometime soon and with improved security.
It is yet to be determined whether army personnel would be deployed on the route in accordance with people’s demands to prevent incidents of violence in future.
Bus services to G-B were again suspended after sectarian violence erupted in Chilas early this week, in which nine Shia commuters were killed and at least five buses were set ablaze by charged protesters.
Earlier, bus services to the region were suspended for four days after the gruesome massacre of 16 Shia passengers on the KKH.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 8th, 2012.
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