Bloodshed in Chilas (Gilgit-Baltistan)

(File Photo)

The concerns of those affected by the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha dam had been brought to the attention of authorities. But the local people were starved of options and denied a voice in their affairs and then came the ultimately bloody protests.

THERE is no doubt that disproportionate force was used by security personnel in Chilas on Thursday when they killed two protesters and injured at least four. The dead and injured were part of a group that was marching towards Wapda Colony to press for the acceptance of local residents’ demands related to the Diamer-Bhasha dam. True, the protesters were not entirely peaceful. But in a country like Pakistan, some may question whether pelting a government office with stones even qualifies as violence. At any rate the mob could have been controlled without bloodshed. As the local police were trying to disperse the crowd with tear gas, witnesses claim that Frontier Constabulary men opened fire, killing and injuring protesters.

This tragic incident reinforces the view that our law-enforcement personnel lack adequate training in how to respond to situations other than the routine, and are particularly inept when it comes to crowd control. Instead of restoring order, the security forces succeeded only in triggering a wave of violent retaliation across Chilas where rioters torched several government buildings and vehicles. The police and other law-enforcement agencies are clearly under severe stress in these trying times. Only training and counselling can teach them not to panic in volatile situations.

Thursday’s events also show that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan still lack a voice even though their region has been granted greater autonomy and given its own assembly and chief minister. The concerns of those affected by the construction of the Diamer-Bhasha dam were earlier brought to the attention of the previous administration, the Northern Areas Legislative Council. The NALC constituted a committee which came up with 18 demands which were subsequently forwarded to the federal authorities. Prominent among them were market-rate compensation for land acquired by the government, payment of royalties, giving preference to locals vis-à-vis jobs at Diamer-Bhasha and demarcation of the GB-NWFP border. The demand for greater compensation was apparently rejected by the centre, while the fate of the other 17 points presented by the NALC remains unknown. A month ago Diamer residents launched a peaceful protest movement and told the authorities they would block the Karakoram Highway if their demands were not met by Feb 18. The deadline passed and then came the ultimately bloody protests in Chilas. The point here is this: no good can come of starving people of options and denying them a voice in their own affairs.DAWN

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