By Ghulam Amin Beg
MADness upsurges in Gilgit town once again, after a lull of few months. What seemed to be a football scuffle by young boys, led to continued skirmish in the town since the last week of July, now leading to half a dozen death tolls finding many other reasons to kill, as if the devastation caused by the flash floods and Attabad landslide was not enough, which together killed over 203 people in GB alone! This time the rumour was the fighting was triggered by shortage of fuel in the town and a long queue at a local petrol pump, where the policeman, on duty, reportedly, favoured one over the other to control order. This was given sectarian colour, which later led to indiscriminate fighting between opposing groups using heavy arms, torching three houses to ashes and taking innocent lives in the holy month of Ramadan.
Dawn editorial on Saturday August 28, reported that, ‘law-enforcement personnel arrived only after the groups had stopped trading fire. Some observers have said the killings were the result of a personal feud; however, in a country where ethnic and sectarian hatreds are never far from the surface, the slightest disagreement can be given a communal colour. What is disturbing is that the Gilgit-Baltistan chief minister has said some police officials were involved in fanning sectarianism; two policemen were among those taken into custody on Thursday in connection with the investigation of a murder case’.
It seems, even our fasting- Roza or Soam, which is an individual’s devotion to ALLAH, pledging to refrain from ‘all evil deeds’ during the month of Ramadan, did not help stop or abandon our mutual acrimony and mistrust, and failed to aid us in overcoming our worst fears of each other. Worst still, we are unable to reflect, anticipate and diagnose the problems that are making us MAD, despite all the prayers, listening to sermons by pious religious scholars and the special meditation sessions we attend during this month?
In Islam, fasting like other forms of Ibada is holistic and closely intertwined with amal-actions. It covers restricting ones ears, eyes, tongue, heart, legs, hands and arms to the orders of God. If one is telling lie, hurting others by using harsh language, or kills others, then ALLAH clearly do not need someone starving from dawn to dusk to please Him.
‘Fear, mistrust and sense of marginalization, these are the commodities abundant these days and that lie at the root of conflict in Gilgit-Baltistan’, said 23 year old Zakir, who is a business student at the University and lived all his life in Gilgit town, sometimes criss-crossing between the firing line in the neighbourhood, at times forced by the circumstances to join hands with those young boys, who, presumably, defend the vital interests of their community.
‘What is scarce these days in the town is, a sense of mutual respect, mutual benefit, sense of security and above all ability to mediate and sit across the table and talk to each other’, added Usman, another student colleague, from the same town.
‘The intriguing question is everyone in the town wants peace, security and a normal life’ but nobody is able to stop this madness’? Said Salam, another student from the same town and a classmate. ‘Who are these armed people? Who protects them? Who funds them? Who provides them logistic support’? He further added.
‘There is a minority group within the large communities that incite risks of hatred; however the majority within the communities have no courage to distance themselves from those who teach and preach hatred, and fight and kill. When they are rounded up by the police or search operations are planned and launched, the whole community resist and come to their rescue’, said Nizam, a retired government official.
‘Even those whose sons, husbands and fathers are killed on the ground, we see them soothing when the number of those killed is higher on the other side of the fence. All they look at is the score board, how many x were killed and how many Y?’ said Nadra, a government school teacher in the town. Where is the human being within? Where is the kind heart of a mother and love of a daughter and sister?, she questioned.
The nexus between government machinery, petty town politics and infiltration of people, ideas and money from sponsors in mainland Pakistan and beyond is also blamed for this state of affair. The Pakistani machinery administering the region as a special territory outside the ambit of the constitution of Pakistan, is also blamed for using infamous subjugation tools of hit and run, divide and rule and ostrich policy, vis-a-vis, fanning sectarian violence and creating a sense of alienation, denying the local people the right to govern their own affairs, and playing one against the other as a political expediancy.
'Actually ‘the mafia’ within the government thrives on such disasters and violence, when there is kind of a police state and all policy decisions are made based on security concerns, based on sectarian lines and through bureaucratic and administrative measures, black money, corruption and favouritism flourish under the carpet and everyone in the chain is beneficiary, both local officials and those appointed by Islamabad’ said a retired police officer.
‘This is Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), and a lose-lose game. Nobody is going to win; the government machinery, the two warring sides, and those neutral in this game of madness, all are the losers’. Said a businessman, who ran for his life to escape the cross-firing, walking through streets to reach his home in five hours, which he normally covers in 20 minutes.
'Conflicts bereave conflict' said an Assistant Professor at the University. 'It costs enormously! You name it; it costs lives, it costs the economy, it ruins the education and future of our children, it hampers development targets and goals, it creates social problems, unemployment and a bad image for the peace loving people to the outside world and poor marketing of our beautiful paradise on earth. It creates psychological issues, blurs our vision, blackens our future, infact destroys our world and the hereafter' he added in a lecturing mode.
'Peace and reconciliation is the only way forward', he further added after a pause.
Accepting each other and accommodating each others views are the only means we will reach peace. The promise of pluralism is challenging but the process and outcome is just,liberating and empowering leading to a win-win situation for all.
However the billion dollar question is who will bell the cat? A neutral mediator is very much the need of the time.Can we find one? Can we agree on a neutral mediation? What should be the process and framework? Who should lead this?
CDMs-Confidence building measures, are required as a first step to over come our own fears, insecurities and mistrusts first, and then critically analysing the overt and covert roles of the various security agencies and the government machinery in calming the situation and arguably fanning such hatreds through deepening marginalization, vested designs and through bad governance, corruption and inefficiency.
Engaging the youth, especially the urban youth, women and children at the grassroots levels in peace and reconciliation is essential in the long-term to create a culture of dialogue, democracy and positive encounter.
Creating a sense of political, social and economic participation in the governance of the affairs of government at various levels in equitable and transparent manner, especially reaching out to the under-served communities and those marginalized in urban pockets, is another step.
Finally, ring fencing and reaching out directly to those whose families were lost during these years of sectarian violence, soothing their families and engaging the disgruntled youth on both sides and creating conditions and enabling environment for them to reintegrate in the society, is crucial to initiating a new social contract between mountain communities in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Let’s start a new chapter.
Rather then getting MAD, let’s focus on MAB- Mutually Assured Benefits and win-win solutions.