In the legends and folklore of Gilgit-Baltistan, King Badat was a cannibal king, who wreaked havoc on his citizens. The notorious king demanded a child a day from his subjects, or a person from each household, as a price for their safety, until the day he was overthrown by a prince from Persia, with the help of his daughter. Cannibalism, now apparently in the name of religion has resurged in Gilgit-Baltistan. While King Badat took precious lives to satisfy his hunger for human flesh, the reason for bloodshed now is based on vested interests and sectarian frictions.
In short, it seems that King Badat has reclaimed his rule in Pakistan recently, Gilgit being no exception.
While the media only present a current-event based view of the violence in Gilgit-Baltistan, students of history remind us that events may be different, but the source of the violence is the same. The recent spate of violence is the same old lethal cocktail of precisely calibrated sectarianism, establishment policies promoting private militias, thinking of security in the form of buffer zones and strategic depth instead of human security. When the tangled web starts to unravel, it is difficult then to tie up the loose ends.
What facilitated these hunger games is the beautifully yet tragically manipulated diversity existing in the region.
(F M Khan, The History of Gilgit, Baltistan and Chitral: A short history of two millennia, Gilgit, 2002).
District : Shia : Sunni : Ismaili : Nurbakhshi
Gilgit : 54% : 19% : 27%
Skardu : 87% : 3% : 10%
Diamer : 10% : 90%
Ghizer : 13% : 87%
Ghanche : 5% : 8% : 87%
Astore : 30% : 70%
The 1998 National Census gave a population figure of 870,000 for Gilgit-Baltistan. It has now been projected to approximately 1.5 million of which 39 percent are Shia, 27 percent Sunni, 18 percent Islamili and 16 percent Nurbakhshi. Through the decades, this diversity has been eyed as a good opportunity to manipulate. Settling and facilitating specific groups of non-locals in an attempt to change the demographic of the area is just one way of manipulation. According to research, the old population ratio of non-locals to locals of 1:4 in 2001 is now 3:4. The reason can be found in history.
The people of the Northern Areas of Pakistan fought an indigenous and independent war for their freedom from the clutches of Dogra rule. This freedom war was neither externally motivated nor externally assisted. In this view, it can be termed as an expression of their right of self-determination as envisaged in the charter of the UN. The people, after gaining freedom from Dogra rule, opted to join Pakistan without any preconditions, but in response to this goodwill gesture, the government of Pakistan imposed a colonial system of governance in the form of the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), known as the ‘black law’. Under this law, no act of Parliament is applicable in the region, while the laws are amended only by the president. Moreover, the law denies the right to make an appeal against any decision of a jirga, applies collective punishment on a tribe or a family, and gives legal cover to the authorities to arrest anyone without charge.
The Bhutto government abolished this black law in 1972, and direct federal rule was introduced in the region. The princely states and the rule of hereditary princes were abolished along with the state subject. This in turn also facilitated the settlement of non-locals from various parts of the country in Gilgit-Baltistan. As mentioned earlier, this altered the demographic characteristics of the area. Under federal rule, Gilgit-Baltistan was converted into districts, while the resident commissioner and deputy commissioners were introduced. Still, no representation was given to the people of the area. The security establishment attached the question of autonomy and constitutional identity with the resolution of the Kashmir issue. As a result, the introduction of this direct federal rule also could not meet the requirements of the people of the region, and they were not given any protection under the constitution.
However, let us also remind ourselves that it was during the Bhutto regime in the mid-1970s that the first Sunni-Shia clash took place. Sunnis had objected to the practice of Shias making stages in the middle of the road to deliver speeches. In response, the authorities prohibited such activities, which led to clashes between the Shia community and police. The sectarian divide was strengthened by General Zia’s Islamisation and anti-Shia policies, the fruits of which we are seeing in Gilgit, Punjab and Balochistan. The imposition of Sharia or Islamic law by the dictator during his tenure and that too with an inclination towards the extremist Sunni school of thought agitated the Shia community, creating fertile ground for sectarian conflict throughout Pakistan. The sponsoring of extremist Sunni militants by the state mainly created for the Afghan war added fuel to the fire, as they promoted sectarian differences. The Zia regime promoted Sunni radical groups such as Sipah-e Sahaba to establish their presence in Gilgit-Baltistan. The brunt of the violence was witnessed in the 1980s and especially after 1988, when the jihad ‘came home’. Although the policies of the dictatorial regime of General Zia sowed the seeds for sectarian polarisation, unfortunately the later incumbent administrations — democratic or otherwise — also did not take any measures to mitigate the brewing conflict. The blind eye turned towards the region by the state, can only be termed criminal. Regarding the involvement of foreign elements in the present events, which is being emphasised by the so-called religious alliances, it should be noted that even the IG Gilgit-Baltistan has denied any such involvement in the current strain. Besides, even if there are foreign elements active, then it is only due to our own negligence and abandonment of the citizens living there, which has created inroads for these elements.
(To be continued)
The writer Gulmina Bilal Ahmad is a development consultant and can be reached at email@example.com
Published in Daily Times