July 2003 News

Gilgit sitting atop a ticking bomb

8 July 2003
The Daily Excelsior
Daily Excelsior Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Gilgit in Pakistan-controlled northern areas is sitting atop a sectarian bomb, which is ticking away, according to a leading Pakistani newspaper. The Shia community is up in arms in the area that has seen much sectarian tension since the time General Zia-ul Haq sent Sunni ‘Lashkars’ to put the fear of God in Shias, the Friday Times said. The sectarian tensions go back to 1988 when riots broke out in the area over the sighting of Ramadan moon resulting in the killing of 300 people officially and 700 unofficially. The newspaper said the present tension was due to the objection by the Shia community to Islamiat textbooks. The issue, simmering for three years now, had acquired more ferocity in the last one year. 'The issue is unresolved for last three years. The Government has failed to address it to our satisfaction. The textbooks (Islamic studies) promote Sunni thought and totally neglect ours. We want the books redesigned or the consequences will be extremely dangerous,' warned Agha Ziauddin Rizvi, Imam at Gilgit’s Imamia Mosque. The Shia community leaders said the Islamiat textbooks have been deliberately distorted to promote sectarian hatred between the two sects. 'The distortions are not only limited to Islamic studies but are also highlighted in textbooks of other subjects such as Urdu, History, English and even the drawing books. I do not advocate elimination of Islamic studies from the curriculum but I want them purged of all controversial and inflammatory material,' he told the newspaper. A senior education ministry official said the Government had taken note of the issue and was doing its best to review and re-write the textbooks but possibly could not design a separate curriculum for Shias. 'The Shia leaders are demanding a separate curriculum for their sect. This is impossible. It will further aggravate the scourge of sectarianism,' he added. His views are echoed by a Shia scholar, Amin Shaheedi. ‘’a separate Islamiat curriculum will create more dissent. It is no solution. We should have a consensus syllabus acceptable to all sects,’’ he said. One of the objections is that the textbooks carries a sketch of a boy offering prayers in the Sunni way. 'The picture can mislead a Shia student about his-her religious rituals,’’ Mr Ali Ahmed Jan, a lead (leadership for environment and development) fellow said. Shia students have been boycotting classes and staged protest rallies. Several people, including a girl student, were injured when the ongoing strike and boycott of the classes turned violent as the mob reportedly tried to close down an army-run school in Gilgit. The paper said Gilgit was virtually under siege. To ward off any untoward situation, the law enforcement agencies have enhanced security measures in Gilgit and suburban areas. Prohibitory orders have been imposed in the city. The clashes started during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s days in the mid-seventies when a section of the Sunni community raised objections over the Shias’ making a stage on the city’s main road and delivering speeches. 'The situation worsened in 1988. Zia exploited a minor issue of moon-sighting and observance of Ramadan fasting and masterminded the murder of 700 innocent people that included women, elders and children. The Shia community was celebrating Eid because its scholars had sighted the moon, whereas, the Sunni community was fasting. The Sunnis felt hurt and attacked some Shia boys who were eating and celebrating Eid. This led to a gunbattle between the two communities. The situation settled down and remained calm for four days. On the fifth day, a huge ‘Lashkar’ (Army) of 80,000 Sunni extremists was sent by the Zia-ul-Haq Government to annihilate the Shias. Villages inhabited by the Shias Jalalabad, Bonji, Darot, Jaglot, Pari, and Manawar were completely ruined. Even their animals were slaughtered. The Laskhar had traveled a long distance from Mansehra to Gilgit and the Government did not stop it. Instead, it put the blame on RAW and CIA,' Mr Shaheedi said. The controversial textbooks have been written by a panel of four Sunni authors, the newspaper said. According to the former Minister for Religious Affairs and a Sunni scholar, there was no solution to the Shia-Sunni dispute. 'The issue is 1,400 years old and it can never die down. It is in the blood of clerics on both sides of the divide to fight,' he added. (UNI)


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