THE chilling recent episode in Chilas, where militants were able to practically hold hostage a sitting Gilgit-Baltistan minister along with several others by blocking Babusar Road, exposes a shocking lack of security in the area. A little-known outfit calling itself Mujahideen Gilgit-Baltistan and Kohistan on Friday brazenly stopped GB Minister Abaidullah Baig, who was travelling from Gilgit to Islamabad, whisked him away and held up traffic on the high-altitude road for several hours. The minister was later freed, but only after political leaders and clerics from Diamer, as well as local officials, negotiated with the militants. Apparently, the militants want their comrades — some involved in the deadly 2013 terrorist attack on the Nanga Parbat base camp, in which foreign climbers were targeted — freed, along with an end to women’s sports activities in GB. They said the road was blocked because the state failed to honour a 2019 agreement with them, while giving the government a 10-day ultimatum to meet their demands.
This part of northern Pakistan has in the past witnessed grotesque terrorist violence. Aside from the Nanga Parbat incident, in 2012 a series of monstrous attacks took place, in which people were pulled out of buses and killed. These included incidents in Kohistan and Mansehra. Most of the victims were Shia. All of these aforementioned terrorist attacks were carried out by the TTP or its offshoots, and it is safe to assume the elements involved in last week’s Chilas ambush are linked to the same groups. The state, particularly the security establishment, needs to explain how this massive security lapse occurred. It is astounding that militants were able to block a major artery with such ease. This time the militants let the hostages go; next time they may not be so ‘benevolent’. Moreover, the policy of negotiation and caving in to the demands of violent actors is a flawed one, and has always failed. The state should by no means release men involved in heinous acts of terrorism, while the militants’ other demands, such as ensuring women disappear from the public sphere in GB, must also be dismissed. Elsewhere, in parts of KP there are now credible reports that TTP fighters have once again picked up the gun. Clearly, militant groups are again starting to throw their weight around. Instead of meekly reacting, the state must proactively nip the terrorist threat in the bud before the nation is overwhelmed by a fresh wave of militant violence.
Published in Dawn, October 11th, 2022