A day after the Gilgit-Baltistan administration lifted a 25-day-old curfew in the region, Chief Minister Syed Mehdi Shah spelled out measures to check the outbreak of sectarian violence in the future.
Shah told journalists in Islamabad that a 410-strong force has been raised to patrol the strategic Karakoram Highway (KKH).
The new force has been drawn from police, paramilitary Frontier Corps and rangers, army and Gilgit Scouts. It will start patrolling the highway from May 1. The force will report to the region’s home department.
Chief Minister Shah said the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government has also agreed to raise a similar force to patrol part of the KKH which lies under its administrative control in Kohistan district.
He said that his administration would ban the clerics who are stoking sectarianism and fuelling hatred in their Friday sermons.
Two central mosques, one each of Shia and Sunni sects, were sealed earlier, and the regional law minister, Wazir Shakeel, has confirmed that a Mosque Board was being constituted to mediate between them.
Chief Minister Shah added that the two mosques would be reopened once a high-level committee settled the matter between the two sects. “Nobody will be allowed to make provocative speeches in the mosques after they are reopened,” he said.
“For the first time, the administration has arrested five top clerics in Chilas and many more in Gilgit city from both sects. They will be dealt with according to the law,” Shah said and blamed local elders and clerics for the recent bout of deadly violence in the region.
Earlier this month nearly 20 people were killed and many more injured in clashes between the two communities in different parts of the region, prompting the administration to call out the army.
The chief minister said that he has formed a committee, headed by the home secretary, and tasked it with assessing the damage caused by the violence and to compensate those who lost their property and family members.
Support for the PM
Chief Minister Shah also lent his support to Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani who was convicted by the Supreme Court in a contempt of court case earlier this week. “It seems that the verdict came from one of the opposition members,” he said, referring to the judgment.
He also came down hard on the opposition Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz for its threat of leading a long march towards Islamabad. “We would like the chief
justice to take notice of Nawaz Sharif’s comments which came prior to the court’s detailed verdict,” Shah added.
At a separate news briefing, the G-B government and its coalition partners also expressed solidarity with the premier. The region’s law minister Wazir Shakeel gave the briefing.
However, journalists present there complained that the local administration was ignoring the deteriorating law and order situation which was a far more important issue than the premier’s conviction.
“You are unnecessarily trying to agitate an issue that is not directly related to you. You should instead talk about the steps taken for peace in Gilgit Town,” said one of the journalists after Shakeel wrapped up his address.
The comment triggered a barrage of questions from other journalists about the region’s security.
“We admit that we did not take the issue of sectarianism as seriously as we should have. We have realised our mistake and now we trying to make amends,” Shakeel said when pushed to address the matter.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2012.
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