GB unrest

Published September 5, 2023

AWAY from the glare of mainstream media, trouble has been brewing in Gilgit-Baltistan in recent weeks. Demonstrations and counter-protests have been held in the mountainous region, with key thoroughfares blocked and mobile internet shut, as sectarian hatreds have returned to cast a long shadow over the area.

According to reports, action was sought against a religious leader belonging to one school of thought, who had made a controversial statement last month.

After protests in Chilas and elsewhere, a case was registered against the said cleric. This led to protests in Skardu and other towns, while allegedly derogatory remarks were made by another cleric, resulting in the filing of a case against this individual.

Communal differences may only be a trigger for the protests, as there are several underlying factors in GB fuelling disaffection.

However, the state’s bulldozing of the Criminal Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2023, through parliament has certainly breathed new life into sectarian discourses that were largely dormant.

GB may only be the first area where narrow communalism is being revived, thanks to this debatable legislation, and unless democratic forces and enlightened clerics speak up, the fire of hatred may spread, especially to those spots in the country where sectarian tensions are already high.

There are signs that matters are improving, as the region’s chief minister met both Shia and Sunni clerics, who have promised to maintain calm. The caretaker federal information minister has said the area is experiencing “peace and stability”, while adding that the military had been called in only to maintain peace during Chehlum.

Though GB has witnessed sporadic sectarian violence over the past several decades, matters, over the past few years, had been improving where inter-communal relations are concerned.

Therefore, the local administration, as well as clerics from both sects, need to support efforts for peace-building and shunning those who promote divisive agendas.

In particular, hate groups must not be allowed to spread their toxic views in an effort to fan communal flames. But beyond GB, unless the bill in question, specifically the amendments to the blasphemy law, is reconsidered, it will only add to extremism and widen fault lines in society.

As this paper has argued before, blasphemy cannot be condoned, and all religious figures should be respected. But bringing complicated theological and historical issues before parliament — which are better addressed by subject specialists and scholars of the highest calibre — and then rushing them through without any debate will only add to divisions in the country.

Such sensitive issues should not be codified in law in such a haphazard manner. For over four decades, Pakistan has been reeling from the effects of terrifying sectarian violence. To prevent the misuse of blasphemy laws, and the violence this begets, the amendments need to be rethought.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2023

Opinion

Editorial

Unyielding onslaught
12 Jun, 2024

Unyielding onslaught

SEVEN soldiers paid the ultimate price in Lakki Marwat on Sunday when their vehicle was blown up in an IED attack,...
X diplomacy
Updated 12 Jun, 2024

X diplomacy

Both states can pursue adversarial policies, or come to the negotiating table and frankly discuss all outstanding issues, which can be tackled through dialogue.
Strange decisions
12 Jun, 2024

Strange decisions

THE ECP continues to wade deeper and deeper into controversy. Through its most recent decision, it had granted major...
Interest rate cut
Updated 11 Jun, 2024

Interest rate cut

The decision underscores SBP’s confidence that economic stability is gaining traction.
Rampant zealotry
11 Jun, 2024

Rampant zealotry

Decades of myopic policies pursued by the state have further aided the radicalisation of significant portions of the population.
Cricket breakdown
11 Jun, 2024

Cricket breakdown

THERE was a feeling that Pakistan had finally turned the corner in their T20 World Cup campaign. Sadly, it was only ...