Original Articles

Three cups of tea: A story of betryal and butchery – by Maisam Ali

“Haji Ali spoke. ‘If you want to thrive in Baltistan, you must respect our ways. The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die.” – (Three Cups of Tea)

Thus spoke a Balti to Greg Mortenson who ascribed the title of his bestseller to this Balti proverb inscribed on amicable traditions of people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Notwithstanding the cordial gesture of locals, the others who have been sharing cups of tea for last sixty years have brought horrors of death and destruction to the inhabitants.

Spring is splendid in Gilgit-Baltistan. It is the time when wildflowers of Deosai Plains start blossoming and prismatic colored butterflies flap their wings joyfully. It has always been like this. This spring, however, is different. As ugly as it gets. On April 3, a convoy of dozens of buses headed to Gilgit was intercepted in south of Chilas, Shia passengers were segregated by checking their ID cards and tell-tale marks of self-flagellation, and summarily executed. Some were stoned to death. Acid was thrown on some to burn them alive. Some were thrown to the Indus. As many as 100 may have been killed and there are reports that 250 may have been abducted. Such were the horrors and trepidations of the incident.

To sweep it under the rug by simply holding the dogmatic issues responsible for bloodbath and by terming it as inevitable result of centuries’ long sectarian rift between Shias and Sunnis would be tantamount to insult the blood of innocents. There are aspects of this gruesome episode that no sane mind can overlook in defining the genesis of Shia pogrom in Gilgit-Baltistan and in Pakistan for that matter.

The real tragedy of Gilgit-Baltistan lies in two distinct facts as followed:

  • The rise of sectarian extremism is an alarming consequence of denial of basic political and constitutional rights to the people of G-B. Almost six decades after Pakistan’s independence, the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan, once a part of former princely state of Jammu & Kashmir, remains undetermined.
  • It is the only Shia majority area in a country that is largely a Sunni dominated country. Shia population constitutes more than 75% of total population of G-B around two million, with varying Shia sub-sects of Twelvers, Ismailis and NoorBukshis.

Let’s dissect the two apprehensions one by one.

In October 1947, Maharaja of Kashmir formally acceded to India in the repercussion of ‘holy war’ of Pashtun tribesmen against Kashmir’s Hindu ruler. The maharaja’s decision provoked a full-scale rebellion in Gilgit, spearheaded by the Gilgit Scouts and Muslim members of the Jammu and Kashmir state troops, with the support of the overwhelmingly Muslim local population. As a result of rebellion, on 16 November power was transferred to the first Pakistani Political Agent in Gilgit. Two days later, Hunza and Nagar signed instruments of accession to Pakistan.

Since then political and constitutional rights of people of G-B have been denied and no stone have been left unturned to keep the population under central control of Pakistani state. A political agent was initially given charge of the region, following the imperial British model of centralised control. After a brief period under NWFP’s administrative control, Gilgit Agency, including Baltistan, placed under KANA (Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas) in 1950. Almost 60 years later, Pakistan’s military, the arbiter of its Kashmir policy, insists that the Northern Areas remain part of the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir and that any delineation of the region’s constitutional status will have to wait for a solution of the Kashmir dispute. As a result, the Northern Areas are not included in the Pakistan constitution and, unlike the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), are not represented in the parliament. The region has been left in a constitutional limbo and thus paving the way for sectarian extremism.

Taking advantage of the weaknesses in the imposed dispensation, religious organizations espousing a narrow sectarian agenda are fanning the fires of sectarian hatred in a region where Sunnis, Shias and Ismailis have peacefully coexisted for several centuries. The Pakistan military has ultimate authority over decisions not just about but also within the Northern Areas. The overall control of military forces in the Northern Areas falls under the Army’s 10 Corps, headed by a lieutenant general and headquartered in Rawalpindi. The region’s military command is with the Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA), headed by a major general and based in Gilgit. Tasked with defending the Northern Areas’ borders, the FCNA also exercises enormous influence over internal affairs, not just law enforcement but also administrative issues such as postings and transfers.

The absence of rule of law and the climate of impunity has empowered sectarian extremists, who are also the main beneficiaries of the democratic deficit. So long as elected institutions remain impotent and moderate voices are silenced and marginalized, sectarian extremists are bound to flourish.

There’s another dimension of the predicament that has added to the miseries of inhabitants of G-B. The fact that G-B is the only Shia majority area in Sunni dominated Pakistan has brought horrors of death to its people. This is directly related to the state making process. A state that officially proclaims Islam as its raison d’etre – Islam that is implicitly coded as Sunni – the Shia majority G-B thus constitutes a significant source of anxiety. It was the fear of this different Muslim that has driven the Pakistan state to establish authoritarian rule in G-B whereby fanning the sectarian extremism against Shias. The state has deliberately attempted to change the demographic, social and economic balance in favor of Sunni population in G-B.

First authorities abrogated the State Subject Rule, the law that until then protected the local demographic composition, and encouraged Pakistani Sunnis to settle down in the region. This government sponsored settlement scheme damaged the social fabric and provoked religious feuds that continue to simmer. Thereafter state institutions – chiefly the Army, Intelligence Agencies and KANA bureaucracy – embarked upon divide and conquer project that aimed at creating disunity along sectarian lines, in order to thwart regional solidarity and secular-nationalist aspirations.

The phenomenon can be observed in historical context as continuation of persecution of Shias in Sunni led governments whenever and wherever they deemed the Shia population as an obstacle in imposing state narrative. Islam came to G-B in 13th century and it was Ismaili Islam (Ismailis were rulers of Multan before persecuted by Ghaznavi and his successors). The sectarian strife in G-B is recent phenomenon. The area was most peaceful throughout the pages of history. A partial explanation of presence of a sizeable Shia majority in this region is the long historical period during which Shia were persecuted and mass murdered by Sunni Caliphates and Sultans in the Middle East and India. This explains why Shias are concentrated in certain remote and difficult regions of Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan.

Similar, if not exactly the same, is the case with the Hazara Shia community on both sides of Pak Afghan border. Hazaras have been living in Hazarajat that is a confined region in central highlands of Afghanistan. They have been persecuted and mass murdered by Afghan Amirs and especially by the Taliban. To their misfortune, they have been maltreated on this side of border in Quetta where they had come to escape the atrocities of Afghan rulers. For being predominately adherent to Shia sect, they are more prone to pogrom at the hands of the state that finds it more convenient to annihilate poor Hazaras in pursuit of implementing its policies drawn from India and Afghan Jihad centric perspective. So called strategic assets of the state – to be planted as carriers to Afghanistan once NATO leaves – are killing Hazaras day in and day out with impunity and the state has opted for keeping mum rendering the Hazaras an easy prey for bloodthirsty monsters.

The phenomenon has been candidly explained by Ayesha Siddiqa: “Militancy keeps on demanding sacrifices, so if it’s not targeting the enemy outside it’s targeting the enemy within”. So has been the case for Shias of GB and Pakistan for that matter who are deemed as infidels in the eyes of militant organizations thus acquiring the status of enemy of Islam and the foremost target. The State is bound to remain complicit in this ‘holy hunting’ of infidels for being hand in gloves with the militants who peddle its agenda.

Here’s a case in point:

In May 1988, during Zia era, Sunni zealots, predominantly from NWFP’s tribal areas, assisted by local Sunnis from Chilas, Darel and Tangir, attacked several Shia villages on the outskirts of Gilgit. For three days, they killed, looted and pillaged with impunity while the authorities sat back and watched. Although contingents of the paramilitary Frontier Constabulary (FC) were eventually sent in, they too looked the other way while Sunni attackers wreaked havoc. Independent sources put casualty figure of Shias at 700. The attack was entirely government sponsored. The invaders were allowed unhindered passage from NWFP right up to Gilgit and permitted to commit the carnage. Situation worsened under Zia era when military dictator encouraged cadres of the radical Sunni Sipah Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) to extend its activities to GB. Zia not only encouraged and facilitated the migration of people from other areas of Pakistan but also assisted the SSP to set up its presence in the area and start a large number of Madrassas to impart the religious education to the local Sunnis.

The most unmarked facet that has not been weighed in any scholarly or academic discourse yet is this general apathy of common man towards these heinous killings. This is the apathetic attitude that encourages the perpetrators and abettors to go on killing spree unabated. The attitude of indifference has developed over last few decades. The gravity of macabre state of affairs has largely been trivialized. This may be understood in the context of state’s endeavor to acquire ‘forced consent’ of general populace. Plagued with socio-economic distress, the masses are usually kept unaware of graveness of matters by misrepresenting or obfuscating them. Then there’s a stratagem on secondary level comprises of Judiciary and the Media that hinders each and every development not in line with the popular narrative, either by doing so in cahoots with the real perpetrators or by coming under shallow nationalist streak that doesn’t allow analyzing the events with out of the box approach. This half of society is part of the stream that keeps outpouring in a predetermined direction and incapable to see what direction the stream takes – spellbound. They are like a thick veil between the view and the viewer.

Now when the spring has descended and ice will start melting in days to come, the people of G-B no more find themselves welcoming the season that otherwise has always brought the anthems of joy and jubilation with it. Bloodstained mountains stand bleak in solidarity with the lands in Southern Pakistan where Shia blood is being spilled relentlessly. People are no more willing to share their cups of tea. Perhaps they still have to figure out why now they are being alienated and singled out in a land from where loudest shouts of ‘Ya Ali’ have been coming out throughout pages of history. Religion is the same. So are the people. What has changed?

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  • Zaberdast! An article LUBP should be proud of! Keep writing Ali.
    The conclusion of your article is very good , its right that the apathy of common man has not been discussed academically in Pakistan but this phenomenon has been thoroughly discussed in context of Holocaust!
    Not only in social sciences but also in Philosophy. Also the role of intellectual in these situation. Levinas for example in his famous lecture ” on forgiveness” in Paris remarked “It is difficult to forgive some Germans , its difficult to forgive Heidegger”

    Academic Leftist discourse changed for ever after Holocaust! “Silence” emerged as an important pre requsite to genocide.
    Than there were attempts to understand silence, this was the focus of western Marxists post 2nd imperialist war. On ideology or the “ways of thinking”, led to great work by many including Gramsci, Althusser , Marcuse, Fromm etc on how people’s minds are controlled! Why they stay silent and obedient?

    You have written with your soul! thanks!

  • Ethnic Cleansing of the Kafirs in Pakistan
    By Abbas Zaidi

    In all the languages spoken in Pakistan, Kafir means “Infidel” and Kafiristan means “Land of the Infidels.” (Kafir also means “infidel” in Arabic.) Yet, ironically Kafiristan in Pakistan is believed to be a paradise located in the northwest part of the country: lakes, waterfalls, green forests teeming with wildlife, snow and a mellow sun.

    But it is not just the place itself that fascinates; it is the women of Kafiristan, part-fairy and part-human whose beauty, as the story goes, can make a man lose his religion. “When a Kafir woman drinks water, you can see it streaming down her throat. One can count the veins on her body,” is the standard text regarding the Kafir woman’s delicateness. They are believed to be whiter than white.

    But who are these Kafirs?

    The advent of the Kafirs in Northwest of Pakistan
    –what is known now as the Kalash Valley consisting of the Birir, Bumboret and Rumbor sub-valleys–and southern Afghanistan, predates the birth of Islam by several centuries. As of now, the Kalash Valley is a part of Chitral, a very large administrative region in Northwest of Pakistan. The Kafirs are believed to be descendants of the warriors who arrived with Alexander the Great and decided to stay on. Historically, the Kafirs have remained an isolated ethnic group who were left undisturbed by both the Muslim rulers of India and by the British Raj. Many Western historians during the Raj were surprised to find the Kafirs’ physical resemblance to be so similar to their own that they proudly declared that they and the Kafirs were of the same stock. As such, the Kafirs were allowed to freely practice their ancient customs, including ritual alcohol consumption, promiscuous dancing and ritual free sex.

    The tragic watershed in Kafiri history came towards the end of the 19th century when in South Afghan- istan their population was decimated in the name of Islam. The Afghan ruler at that time declared that either the Kafirs would be converted to Islam or be wiped off the face of the earth. The Afghan campaign was a total success, and the dawn of the 20th century did not see a single Kafir living in Afghanistan as a Kafir. Even the names of their villages were Islamised.

    The Kafirs on the other side of the border were spared genocide due, one might suppose, to the Raj. In 1947 the Raj ended and Pakistan came into being, but the Kafirs continued to lead their lives as they had lived them for centuries. The legends about the beauty of the Kafir women and the landscape contin- ued in a quasi-Orientalist mode. Every so often one heard about someone marrying a Kafir woman and bringing her home, though no one ever actually saw one. (In the legends and tales about Kafiristan the Kafir men are significant by their absence.)

    It was only in the early 1970s that the people of Pakistan began to hear about the Kafirs in the national media, when Kafiristan was facing famine. Thanks to then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, a tragedy was averted and he became the Kafirs’ hero.

    But then came the CIA-sponsored Afghanistan jihad and Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979. Ayatollah Khomeini challenged, inter alia, the US, the Arab monarchies and Pakistan’s military dictatorship. Pakistan’s progressive religious groups also became inspired by the Iranian Revolution and started planning in terms of a revolution for Pakistan too. They were a curious mix of Islam and Marxism. Some of them were extremely anti-American and anti-Soviet; some of them preferred the atheistic Soviet Union to the anti-Islamic United States and had their socialist friends in Afghanistan; and some of them pro-Khomeini, and Khomeini had challenged the US as no one had ever done before. Hence, the Iranian Revolution unfied them into an anti-American front. They called the Afghan refugees of those days “the absconders” and the jihad-wagers “the CIA agents.”

    General Zia ul Haq, Pakistan’s longest-reigning dictator to date, was the enfant gate of the Saudi Royal Family, with a proven track record of loyalty to his masters in Jordan as well. The US needed a strongman in Islamabad to offset pro-Iranian and anti-American sentiments and to oppose the Soviets on its behalf. Hence it became vital to divide Pakistan along sectarian lines. Only the Deobandi-Wahabi (see end note #2) version of Islam could produce the desired results. So, in order to out-Khomeini Khomeini, the General introduced his own brand of Islamisation. That same year Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hange, with the full blessing of the US government. 1979, that annus mirabilis, marked the beginning of the end for the Kafirs.

    In 1981 Ronald Reagan provided a multi-billion-dollar “aid” package in order to help Pakistan intensify the Afghanistan jihad. General Zia called upon the nation to go one step further than the Government in bringing Islam to every nook and corner of Pakistan. As a result, countless Tablighi (proselytizing) parties confronted every Muslim and non-Muslim Pakistani preaching the Deobandi-Wahabi version of Islam. Coincidentally, that year saw klashnikovs and heroin begin to penetrate every nook and cranny of Pakistan. The Kafirs got the first taste of things to come when some Tablighi zealots illegally occupied a large cultivated piece of their land in Bumboret and built a mosque.

    What happened after that is not hard to discover. The Afghan refugees and the Pathan Tablighi parties (now known as the Taliban) seized nearly 70 percent of Kafir land during the period 1981 to 1995. They built mosques and seminaries where, in addition to learning the Koran by rote only, students learn the arts of war, techniques that are used against India in Kashmir and against Muslim and non-Muslim religious minorities within Pakistan as well as against “infidels” elsewhere. The first fruit of the Afghanistan jihad for the Kafirs was the decimation of the Kalash forests and wildlife by the Afghan refugees. As the vegetation grew sparse, the Kafirs’ cattle met the same fate as their forests, and the traditional Kafir means of livelihood was irreparably destroyed.

    Once the Afghan refugees and the Tablighis became entrenched in Chitral, the forced conversion of the Kafirs began. Gun-toting Tablighis made it clear that in order to go on living in Pakistan (Pakistan means “Land of the Pure”) the Kafirs must convert to Islam. For the Kafirs any place beyond the Kalash Valley is as alien as Mars. The kidnapping and forced marriage–and hence forced conversion–of the Kafir women to the Muslims, mostly Tablighi Pathans, continues to this day. These women are not allowed to see their relatives unless the relatives also convert. It is no secret that many of these women are sold at auction. Men are circumcised against their will. The Tablighis carry klashnikovs as a matter of routine and have killed many Kafirs who resisted conversion to the Tablighi Islam. No Kafir is allowed to carry a gun.
    The poverty of the Kafirs has also been a big factor in their conversion to Tablighi Islam. Within the Chitral society they are completely ostracized for being “Kafirs”, a term that illiterate people (and illiteracy in Chitral is the norm) understand to mean “infidels.” The government does not give loans to Kafirs; the police and the judiciary have never taken any action against the appropriation of Kafir land by the Tablighis. The only source of income for the Kafirs are the Tablighis who lend them money at high interest. Since the Kafirs cannot pay off these loans, the only course left for them is either to convert or surrender their properties to the Tablighis.

    While electricity, available through gasoline generators, and tap water are available to every Muslim in the Kalash Valley, and loudspeakers relay azzan and Koranic recitations throughout the day, there is not a single Kafir house that has electricity or a water tap. Their living conditions are indescribable. The Chitral winter is Siberian. The mosques and seminaries have heaters and warm water. The Kafirs’ houses remain dark all winter, and they have to melt snow for drinking water. They cut wood to make fire. Their houses are actually large single rooms that remain shut for the six months of winter. Humans and animals live in them together. One can only imagine the stink and the lack of sanitation. There are no toilets. In summer, people use the open fields to relieve themselves; in winter they relieve themselves inside their houses, the same as their animals. One finds human and animal waste everywhere.

    There is not a single hospital nor even a minor dispensary in the whole of Kafiristan. The Tablighis have 4×4 jeeps, but few Kafirs have any kind of vehicles. Many Kafirs have died, when basic emergency aid could have saved them, such as during childbirth. The Kafiri diet is basic and monotonous, and one rarely sees either a male or female Kafir who looks physically strong. The women’s veins show plainly because of their malnourished state. Their characteristic long necks are dirty, and you only have to come close to one to know that they seldom get to take a bath.

    Needless to say, Kafir culture is now nonexistent, thanks to the Tablighis. In the 1980s it was thought that the Kafirs as a distinct cultural group would become extinct by the end of the century. But they still linger on, though their number now is no more than two thousand. The government of Pakistan takes great pride in having established the Kalash Foundation “to preserve and propagate Kafir culture.” But the facts speak otherwise. It is true that the Kalash Foundation has somewhat slowed the steamroller of the Tablighi Islam. But it has not done anything positive for the Kafirs. No effort has been made to give their language written documentation, and there does not exist even a single standard text devoted to Kafiri culture.

    Visitors to the Kalash Valley have to pay a toll to enter. The toll ticket given to the visitor is jokingly called “the zoo ticket.” The Kafirs and what is left of their culture have been preserved merely to cater to the tastes for the exotic of generals, bureaucrats, politicians and foreign dignitaries. Thanks to the Kalash Foundation, the Kafirs have become little more than anthropological artifacts. The World Wildlife Federation has been crying blue murder over the fact that only five thousand tigers remain in their natural habitat. Who cares that only two thousand Kafirs remain, despite a captivity-cum-protection program supposedly accorded them by the Pakistani government?
    Meanwhile, the Tablighi are pushing to convert these few remaining pagans, and it is unlikely that the Kafirs will last very long into the 21st century. Kafir culture will end up–like so many indigenous cultures elsewhere–in the “cultural centers” of the big cities under the oversight of the Ministry of Cultural Affairs. One may surmise that in future the converted Kafirs and their progeny will be engaged in fighting Indians, the religious minorities of Pakistan and “infidels” elsewhere. Meanwhile, in order to edify and entertain their audiences, Muslims employed by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs will stage exhibitions of Kafiri culture, dressing up and posing as the Kafirs whom the government and the Tablighis have systematically eliminated.


  • Whenever i read Abbas i bite my fingers! love the way he utilizes discourse analysis!

  • Pakistan People’s Party is losing Shia Muslims support in many areas of the country because of failed policies of the PPP-led government.
    PPP has formed government in Shia majority Gilgit-Baltistan province. PPP wins the constituencies of Shia majority areas of Punjab and other parts of the country as well.

    Unfortunately, PPP has done nothing for the betterment of Shia Muslims. PPP-led government has failed to stop genocide of Shia Muslims. They have failed to stop anti-Shia pogrom that goes on in all over the country in full swing.

    PPP government’s supporters and officials claim that it is judiciary that has to take action against the terrorists. As a matter of fact, first step is to be taken by the government. It is the administrative machinery that works under the government that has to adopt measures for arrest of the terrorists with proofs.

    Some incidents occurred in Gilgit-Baltistan, Punjab and Sindh, provinces may be cited to prove that government failed to maintain its writ or intentionally ignored terrorists. Federal interior minister Rehman Malik had promised to meet the demands presented to him in charter of demand in Gilgit-Baltistan. He failed to do what he had promised.

    Terrorists perpetrated genocide of Shia Muslims in Kohistan and Chilas tragedies. Government was informed about the identities of the ferocious terrorists but they were not arrested. Government was informed about the terrorists training camps but no action was taken against them. Government was informed about fanatics and their patrons belonging to banned terrorist outfit who incited anti-Shia feelings but they were not punished for violation of Pakistan’s constitutional law.

    In Punjab’s southern parts, some incidents of terrorism took place. Many Shia Muslims were massacred.

    In Khairpur of Sindh province, Shia Muslims were persecuted. Sanctity of Shia Islam was violated time and again in all over Sindh province. Mosques and Imam Bargahs were attacked.

    In both cases of Punjab and Sindh province, no stern action against terrorists was taken. Inaction encouraged the enemies of Shia Muslims and they feel Shias as soft targets.

    Shia leaders and notables voiced their protest but peaceful protest and opposition to injustices were not allowed. Shia leaders were booked for their protest both in Punjab and Sindh.

    In Gilgit Baltistan, operation was launched in Shia areas and Shia Muslims were arrested instead of those terrorists who perpetrated heinous crimes against humanity in Kohistan and Chilas Tragedy.

    Shia Muslim areas remain backward during the tenure of PPP-led government. No alternate route for Gilgit Baltistan from Rawalpindi was constructed despite repeated demands. Nor the PIA flights or aerial travelling was provided.

    Anti-government feelings are growing among Shia Muslims. PPP-led ruling coalition has disappointed them. In the past, they were choosing between two mainstream parties: PPP and the PMLN. Now, their mood has changed about the PPP. They have genuine complaints and genuine demands. They are denied to exercise their inalienable rights and they want to attain all genuine rights for them. PPP-led government has failed to provide these due rights, let alone other perks.