The religious harmony apparent at a Muharram procession in Gilgit on Friday suggests the scars left by bloody sectarian strife do not have to haunt the region and its people forever.
Dozens of Sunnis led a mourning procession in the heart of the city, where until recently Shias and Sunnis were victims of violent incidents stage-managed by extremist elements. The move is also a blow to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which had threatened to attack Muharram processions in Gilgit-Baltistan. G-B’s administration was informed of these threats in a letter by the interior ministry last week.
A Sunni delegation comprising elders and the youth from Kashrote and Yadgar areas convened at the Imambargah in Majini Muhalla, where they joined hundreds of mourners.
“We are here to show support and solidarity for peace and sectarian harmony,” said Mutawali Khan, a senior member of the Masjid Board, a representative body of Shias and Sunnis formed to address a spate of violence which ultimately led to the imposition of curfew in the area in April.
“It is a message to the rest of our countrymen to live and let others live peacefully,” said Khan, who has seen at least five houses burnt to ashes in sectarian clashes near his own residence.
The gesture was not lost on the Shia community. Walking in tandem, people from both sects made it clear the division along sectarian lines was not etched in stone – or rather, did not have to be.
This will also ease the otherwise tense atmosphere of the city. Incidents of violence around the city and on the adjoining Karakoram Highway this year have claimed the lives of nearly 70 people, and left several others injured or emotionally scarred.
According to the G-B chapter of International Human Rights Observer (IHRO), more than 80% of the people in Gilgit suffer from stress triggered by the unfortunate law and order situation, the watchdog’s regional coordinator Mohammad Farooq said in a statement issued earlier.
Chief Minister Mehdi Shah said the occurrence was rare, but not a first. “It’s a rare occasion as it happened after three decades. Congratulations to all those who made it possible,” Shah said at a ceremony where he also distributed compensation cheques among relatives of those killed in recent attacks in Gilgit, Lalusar and Kohistan.
“We are not made to fight each other,” said Shah, implying that anti-state elements, and not the region’s people, were the cause of this unrest.
He reminisced about the time when Sunnis used to serve water to mourners during Muharram.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 24th, 2012.