GILGIT: Protesters have been blocking the Karakoram Highway (KKH) near Danyor intermittently for almost a week to protest against the detention of some of their activists and a ban on staging a religious event inside an educational institution.
The protest, however, has not hampered trade under the China –Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), with traffic continuing to flow through an alternative route, police say.
The protest, staged mostly by religio-political activists and members of the Imamia Students Organisation (ISO), started almost two weeks after the first-ever shipment under China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) reached the Sost Dry Port, formally kicking off the multi-billion dollar project considered a ‘game changer’ for the country.
Protestors have been staging a sit-in at Danyor on KKH since Monday. The demonstration began a day after law enforcement detained over two dozen activists, including student leaders of the ISO, who had staged a religious event in a school in Danyor. The event violated a general government-instituted ban on holding events of religious nature in educational institutions in the region.
On Monday, protesters had briefly blocked the highway near the Gilgit Degree College. Police subsequently arrested several students from Shia and Sunni sects. These arrests angered students who were protesting near the degree college in Danyor who then decided to protests till their fellow students were released.
On Saturday, some government officials said that the protests were affecting traffic on the KKH.
“Trade is stuck and it is causing economic losses,” said Minister for Works Dr Muhammad Iqbal while addressing a news conference at the Gilgit press club on Saturday. He was accompanied by Parliamentary Sectary for Law Aurangzeb Khan, Advisor to Chief Minister Abid Baig and Farooq Mir.
Iqbal, who also lives in Danyor, said the protest were affecting routine life in the town besides disrupting traffic on the KKH, the strategic highway connecting G-B to China and rest of the country.
“Holding demonstrations is the right of public but blocking highways such as the KKH is not something which is in the interest of the country or the region,” said Iqbal.
Asked that since they were part of the government, what measures they had taken to resolve the situation, Iqbal said that dispersing these students was not a big deal for the police or the army. However, he pointed out that the use of force is not an option for the government, hinting a measure of reluctance from the government to take action against these protesters.
Khan, however, said that G-B Chief Minister Hafeezur Rehman had invited all stakeholders for a crucial meeting of parliamentary peace committee (PPC) today (Sunday) to sort out the issue.
“We have all the powers and cooperation from concerned departments to settle the issue,” said Khan.
Meanwhile, SSP Rana Mansoor said that traffic was passing through an alternative route. “The number of protestors rise when a cleric visits them,” the SSP told The Express Tribune as he confirmed that around 100 to 200 protestors were still continuing their sit-in.
Earlier, while justifying government’s decisions to ban religious events in schools, Khan said in November 2011, differences had arisen between Shia and Sunni students in Karakoram International University over the observance of a religious day which spiralled into an armed clash which left at least three people dead, including a law enforcement official. Subsequently KIU had to rusticate several students while the government imposed the ban.
“There is logic behind the ban imposed on observance of religious days in educational institutions,” said Khan.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 13th, 2016.