Chilas bus attack

Published December 5, 2023

PERHAPS even more challenging than countering terrorism in urban areas is the threat posed by militants in remote regions of Pakistan. This is especially true in the rugged terrain of Gilgit-Baltistan and adjacent regions of KP. Here, in the shadow of towering peaks, tracing the perpetrators is arguably more difficult than it is in the cities.

However, terrorists cannot be given a free hand to stomp through the mountains, killing innocent people at will. In fact, the geopolitical and communal sensitivity of the area requires that strong counterterrorism measures be taken.

No group has as yet claimed responsibility for Saturday’s atrocity, in which at least nine people were killed when terrorists opened fire on a bus travelling on the Karakoram Highway in GB’s Chilas area. A number of suspects have been detained.

The authorities have ruled out a sectarian motive, while the fact that two of the victims were military men could explain a possible motive for the attack.

Diamer, where Chilas is located, as well as the adjacent Kohistan area of KP, have witnessed militant activity previously, while both areas are known for their ultraconservative mores. In 2012, at least 18 people were pulled off buses and massacred in a sectarian attack in Kohistan.

Later that year, a similar atrocity took place in Mansehra. In both attacks, most of the victims were Shia. In 2013, terrorists massacred 10 foreign climbers and one local at the Nanga Parbat base camp, while in 2021 nine Chinese nationals working on the Dasu dam project, along with four locals, were killed in a TTP suicide bombing.

Meanwhile, in September, a militant incursion from Afghanistan was thwarted in Chitral, which also borders GB, resulting in a number of soldiers being martyred. These events show that this particular region of Pakistan is not immune from the terrorist threat.

Complicating matters is the fact that militant activity in the area often has sectarian overtones. Also, GB borders Afghanistan and China as well as India-held Kashmir, making it a target for transnational militant activity.

The threat from militancy will also scuttle the state’s plans to promote tourism in the area, affecting the livelihoods of the locals of this beautiful, but economically deprived region. Due to these reasons, it is imperative that the administration take decisive action to root out militancy.

Efforts should be headed by federal counterterrorism agencies, with the involvement of the GB and KP administrations. Locals, particularly in Diamer and Kohistan, need to be on board to ensure that militants have no place to hide.

Meanwhile, transporters are of the view that the security provided even to convoys of vehicles is inadequate. This needs to be rectified to ensure the safety of those travelling to and from the region.

Published in Dawn, December 5th, 2023

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