GILGIT: The deployment of troops to Gilgit brought only a surface calm to the city on Wednesday as the death toll climbed up and violence spread further to adjacent areas and beyond.
The bloodletting continued unabated as the local administration conceded to another seven deaths in Sultan Abad, Naltar and the adjacent areas of Gilgit, taking the death toll in the city to 12 over two days of violence. “We have received confirmed reports that 12 people have been killed in Gilgit,” DSP City Tahira Yasubddin told Dawn.
The violence began on Tuesday after a grenade attack on the protesting workers of a sectarian party, Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat.
It was also revealed on Wednesday that there was an increase in the death toll of the tragic Chilas incident where an angry mob had attacked buses on Tuesday and shot to death nine passengers. It appeared on Wednesday that three more had died there – not at the hands of the angry mob but because they jumped into the River Indus to escape.
By Wednesday evening, senior police officials told the media that the bodies of the nine people shot dead had been transported to Gilgit.
The city remained peaceful as more troops were flown in to aid those called in from Gilgit garrison on Tuesday. The continuing imposition of curfew as well as the fact that cellphone services were disrupted to prevent the spread of rumours and panic further helped control the situation.
Administration officials said that the army had control of the city, adding that Corps Commander General Khalid Nawaz visited Gilgit, where he was given a briefing on the security situation, and oversaw the deployment of the troops.
On the flipside, the curfew cost the residents in terms of convenience.
People in Gilgit city faced great difficulties as food in homes ran short and curfew and closed markets made purchase impossible. However, because the troops were unable to monitor the congested streets located deep inside mohallahs within the city, small corner shops did a brisk business as desperate residents made a beeline for them to buy essential items.
The situation at hospitals was even more critical.
Duty official, Yawar Abbas, at DHQ hospital said that the institution was short of medicines, while food was being rationed and provided to patients and attendants. “If the situation does not change, we will face grave problems,” he said.
Officials said the situation at the civil hospital Kashrote was no different where those injured in the hand grenade attack on Tuesday were admitted.
Beyond the city, tempers boiled over and what appeared to be indiscriminate violence carried out by angry mobs. The administration simply reacted to some of the more violent instances and appeared to be 10 steps behind the miscreants instead of controlling the situation.
For instance, it imposed curfew in the nearby town of Danyore after a mob attacked Sultan Abad village and killed three people.
In Nagir, 70km south of Gilgit, local residents took hostage 32 people from Chilas and Kohistan.
The unrest spread as far as Skardu where police reported that angry people carried out an arson attack on a petrol pump owned by people from Diamer District.
The administration’s impotence was evident from the reports of the kidnapping of its own officials in some regions.
Some officials disclosed on the condition of anonymity that the civil judge Hunza/Nagar, Kifayatullah and Dr Rashid, the District Health Officer, along with 30 more individuals had been held hostage in Nagir valley and the administration was making hectic efforts to get them released.
It was also not clear what the plans of the authorities were. There was no information on how long the curfew would continue.
Some officials claimed on the basis of anonymity that an operation would be carried out against the leadership of sectarian parties operating in the area. But there was no confirmation of this.