Gilgit-Baltistan located in north of Pakistan is famous all over the world as scenic valley and lately the infrastructure developments in the area has increased its value manifolds particularly with the trade routes which are now developing because of CPEC. This beautiful area is mentioned as ‘roof of the world’ and carries a significant political history. It borders Azad Kashmir to the south, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the west, Afghanistan to the north, the Xinjiang region of China to the east and northeast and Indian Occupied Kashmir to the southeast. After acceding to Pakistan in 1947, this territory was a separate administrative unit comprising of areas of former Gilgit agency, the Baltistan district and several small princely states in which larger areas were of Hunza and Nagar. But later in 2009, this area was renamed as Gilgit-Baltistan and was given autonomy.
With the initiation of corridor project by the governments of China and Pakistan and having an easy access and connectivity to China, the economy and infrastructure of this area is boosting rapidly. Unfortunately, the miscreant elements are in no mood to spare this peaceful area and trying to disturb the amity of this tourist destination. Trouble makers who are yet to be identified are creating fear and terror among masses by attacking schools, especially those who are educating female. It is pertinent to note that these terror causing rudiments start off their work by distressing children and their education. Not to forget the era in Pakistan, where in past militants used schools as one of the easiest and soft target to disturb the peace of any particular vicinity. But the brave nation fought back with this resilience that without education one is nothing.
Now this picturesque area of GB seems to be new target of miscreants who in past have tried to build disturbance among masses either through sectarian violence or extremism. Recently media reports are coming up that in some areas of GB in past few weeks, dozens of schools in which more than half were girls’ schools were attacked and damaged just to stop children coming out of their houses and continue their education. Though these schools were targeted during the night hours and no human loss was reported yet it is a very serious threat and a signal for looming danger. Most of the schools set off on fire are located in Diamer district of GB, which according to the Pakistan District Education Rankings 2017 is the lowest ranked district in GB and among the lowest ten districts in Pakistan on all the four indices of education. There are 244 government schools in district in which 156 schools are for boys and 88 for girls’ education and notable point is that almost 70 percent schools don’t have proper boundary wall or security which makes them accessible for extremists to carry out their reprehensible acts. Though with an intention to stop education and threat people in area, schools with enough necessary requirements and boundary wall were targeted too in GB.
Investigations are still on according to police and other sources as many are claiming that locals who are against female education and do not want their women out of house are carrying out such acts to stop them. According to some locals, few are opting option of sermons to advocate their objective giving an indication that something is cooking up to disturb peace in the territory. Schools in GB were also targeted during 2004 and 2011 and in the past ten years almost 1500 schools were destroyed in the tribal belt of Pakistan. The Human Rights Watch in their report in 2017 mentioned that the education of thousands of students, especially girls, was disrupted by attacks perpetrated by the Taliban and other militant groups. As the inquiries are still on for condemnable acts of destroying schools, it is pertinent to mention that attack on soft targets must not be dealt softly. Whether the objective is to halt education, to create unrest in area or pop up some new kind of violent movement to disturb peaceful environment, extremists should be tackled and curbed timely.
It is matter of great concern that area which is going to witness future development and is an indicator of economic prosperity because of CPEC is tried to be subverted through such tactics by negative forces. The Indian hand in destabilizing Pakistan and sabotaging CPEC cannot be ignored also at this stage, as one can recall from past, Indian PM Modi speaking on Indian Independence Day and talking about Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan that its people are looking towards him for help. Such remarks show the Indian frustrations and for their any kind of propaganda against Pakistan, they can use locals or any other Kulbhushan to achieve bull of disrupting Pakistan through and by any means. Moreover, the initiation of funds and enforcement of rapid work on construction of Diamir-Bhasha Dam can be alarming for foes and finding no way out to stop the development work in area, they are sorting out easy tactics to standstill progress in GB territory. Therefore, it now becomes foremost duty of government to guarantee peace restoration through necessary measures at the earliest to bring sustained harmony in the region.
— The writer works for Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies, a think-tank based in Islamabad.