• Home minister says ‘tough decisions’ taken to deal with militants
• Transporters suspend coach services to GB; protests against militant activity
GILGIT: Six people have been arrested in connection with an attack on a passenger bus in the Chilas area of Gilgit-Baltistan’s Diamer district, according to a local police official.
At least nine people, including two soldiers, lost their lives, and 21 passengers received injuries when unknown attackers opened fire at the Rawalpindi-bound bus from nearby hills, causing the vehicle to collide with a goods truck.
Meanwhile, transporters have suspended bus services from Rawalpindi to GB districts and called for foolproof security for vehicles and passengers.
An official of Diamer police told Dawn that six locals have been arrested for their alleged involvement in the attack and an FIR has been registered.
Not a ‘sectarian attack’
While talking to reporters on Sunday, GB Home Minister Shams Lone said the attack was unlike past incidents that took place in the region as they were “sectarian” in nature. “This was not a sectarian attack. It was a terrorist attack in which people from various areas and sects were killed.”
He said the locals of Diamer “rejected such attacks by a handful of miscreants”.
The minister held out the assurance that the GB government has taken “tough decisions” to deal with militants and “all culprits will be arrested soon”.
He added that religious scholars from all sects, civil society and political parties have condemned the attack.
According to Mr Lone, GB Chief Minister Gulbar Khan, Maj Gen Kashif Khalil of Force Command Northern Areas, and other top officials have reached Chilas to attend the funeral of those killed in the attack.
The chief minister has also announced a compensation of Rs1 million for the deceased, Rs500,000 for the seriously injured and Rs300,000 for other injured passengers.
He said that passenger vehicles would travel through Diamer during the daytime. The convoys of five to 10 vehicles will be escorted by security personnel.
He assured that the government’s writ would be restored and the attackers would be arrested.
Protests in GB
Security forces across the region have been put on high alert, while traffic on the Karakoram Highway (KKH) remained suspended following the attack, leaving passengers, including tourists, stranded on both sides of Diamer.
Vehicles were later allowed to travel through Diamer during the day in small convoys.
Protests against the incident were also held in Chilas, Gilgit, Skardu, and Hunza. GB transporters also observed a wheel-jam strike across the region.
The region’s transporters association president said this was not the first attack on a bus in GB and demanded protection for vehicles moving on KKH.
In a statement, caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar affirmed that anti-state elements would not be allowed to sabotage peace in GB.
According to the state-run Radio Pakistan, the premier condemned the attack and said the war against terrorism would continue till the complete elimination of terrorism.
He expressed deep grief over the loss of innocent lives and added that targeting unarmed civilians was proof of the terrorists’ cowardice.
Bus service suspended
Transporters have suspended the bus service from Rawalpindi to 10 districts of Gilgit-Baltistan, saying the service will not be resumed until security is provided.
Malik Shahbaz, the general secretary of the Pakistan Transporter Welfare Association, told Dawn that 150 to 200 coaches and buses operate from Rawalpindi to 10 GB districts daily.
He claimed that only one security official on a motorcycle is deputed to escort the convoy of buses along the 50-kilometre-long stretch of the KKH in Chilas.
“The public transport service will remain suspended until the provision of foolproof security to Gilgit-bound buses,” Mr Shahbaz said.
The Pakistan Association of Tour Operators also condemned the attack and said the act of violence not only resulted in the loss of innocent lives but had a profound impact on the tourism industry as well. “Our thoughts are with the victims, their families, and all those affected by this tragedy.”
Mohammad Asghar in Rawalpindi also contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2023