By Ghulam Amin Beg
If James Hilton, the British author of the best seller, Lost Horizon published in 1933, had visited Hunza valley on Thursday, 11th August, 2011, it would have shattered his dream of a Shangri-la, the fictional land of harmony, peace and tranquillity.
On that day, paradise was turned into hell; it was like paradise on fire, and seemed like the Ultar mountain demon, the evil spirit had come down the valley, and entered the evil body of the police officers, who sprayed bullets indiscriminately at innocent, unarmed and peaceful protesters, who’s homes, land and everything they lost on January 4, 2010, in the Attabad landslide lake. The shooting, killed a father and a son and injuring dozens of others.
As one speaker, addressing the spontaneous crowd of over 8,000 people who gathered the other day in Aliabad, at the crime scene, to condemn state terrorism and demanded arrest of the killers, said, ‘yesterday the sky was also weeping, you saw the sudden black clouds up above the valley and the heavy rain shower for almost one hour’, he said while crying. ‘Never before in the history of Hunza, such barbaric act of violence has ever happened, those buried in their graves for centuries, might have shaken as to what happened in Hunza, the land of peace and heaven on earth’, said another speaker.
Termed as a worldly paradise and a permanent happy land between the Himalayas and the western end of the Kunlun mountains, bordered with western Xinjiang Province of China, Hunza remained fiercely independent state for over 1000 years, and has close historic ties with China, before it was attacked and occupied by the British colonialists in 1892, and later, the British-installed rulers joined and lead the other occupied neighbouring states to annex the whole Gilgit-Baltistan region with newly carved state of Pakistan in 1948.Since then, the area is administered by Pakistan as part of the UNCIP Resolution of 1948, linked to the resolution of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan.
The overt reason cited for the brutal killing was, the police force on forward security protocol duty along with the entourage of the Chief Minister Gilgit-Baltistan, who was visiting to distribute cheques to the same unfortunate victims of Attaabad lake who were protesting, wanted the road to be clear of any protest to pass the caravan smoothly.
In a similar pattern of incident, five days earlier, on August 5, 2011, over hundred armed mafia group linked to border trade with China, entered Hunza from south, passed quietly through all the police check posts, with no hindrance and boarded boats at Attabad spillway and reached Hussaini lake harbour upstream, attacked the small village of around 60 households, terrorized women and children, broken into houses, torched shops, tents and motor bikes, and injured dozens in a clash with local wage-labourers and local people. The police on site remained aloof and as spectator.
The reason for this act of terrorism and barbarism at Hussaini was that the local wage labourers and youth who are internally displaced and unemployed due to submerging in the lake of their houses and land and the only highway linking the valley down with Hunza, wanted their first right of refusal and opportunity to work at their own land. While the mafia and trade groups want a total business control at both ends of the Attabad Lake, which was unacceptable to the local people.
Later a peace delegation from the neighbouring valley visited Hussaini, and condemned the acts of the mafia, and apologized to the people and promised that such incidents will not happen again.
“We are born soldiers. We know how to fight and die for our land and our people. Look at the list of martyrs of 1948, 1965, 1971 and the Siachen and Kargil wars’, said an ex military officer from Hunza, ‘but we will never be such a coward to shoot at unarmed, civilians, terrorize women and children. Don’t be mistaken by our patience and love for peace, we know how to defend ourselves, and protect our people and our peace of mind, he added.
Other speakers at the gathering in Aliabad also draw a pattern in what happened on 5th August and what happened on 11th August. Obviously there is merit in many of the points raised. Who is for example interested in containing China, by delaying the widening of Karakoram highway (KKH), and draining of the lake that has blocked the KKH; who is interested in controlling the newly established Hunza-Nagar district, which is an important trade corridor with China; what is the interest of the vested interest groups in gaining petty shares in the existing booty from the illegal sale of relief goods including fuel oil at the spillway; What happened as a mob response damaging public property and buildings, was it pre-planned by the same vested interests who attacked Hussaini and killed IDPs or was it just a spontaneous reaction of teen-aged boys frustrated for many other reasons?
There is a need to look back at what happened, and what is being planned to happen as a result of these two events, and may be other twists. Who is watching these and the early signs? Who will take pre-emptive measures, and issue early warnings? Who is responsible for preparedness and response in the event of such man-made disasters?
The youth, nationalist and democratic leaders and activists need to call an all parties MARAKA to address these issues, draw lessons and chart a plan of action to defend the people and protect the Shangri-La from the evil spirits.
Rise up again, before our Shangri-La is shattered, and we are LOST in the Horizon!!