Sectarian violence claimed 20 lives, curfew entered 19th day in Gilgit

GILGIT:  A deadly upsurge in sectarian violence has led to the suspension of cellular phone services in Gilgit-Baltistan, cutting off thousands of residents from each other and the world outside.
The service was first introduced in the region in 2006. Its suspension has not only hampered business activities, but has also kept thousands of subscribers out of the communication loop.
The government blocked all cellular services in the area on April 4 in an attempt to contain the recent violence which has claimed the lives of more than 20 people. Officials said the ban was imposed as it helped curb violence in Parachinar also.
However, by the time the ban was imposed, Chilas town had already witnessed the killing of 10 Shia bus passengers in a reprisal for a bomb attack on a Sunni rally in Gilgit.
Officials had said it was the mobile phone calls and instant text messages that had triggered the violence in Chilas following the attack on the rally in Gilgit. They also claimed that it was the instant dissemination of the Chilas violence that led to the kidnapping of 34 Sunnis.
“The information of the violence in Gilgit was sent to other areas via mobile phones,” G-B Chief Minister Mehdi Shah was quoted as saying.
According to the officials, it is yet to be decided whether the service is to be restored or kept suspended for some time. Speaker G-B legislative assembly Wazir Baig said a decision to this effect would be taken soon.
With the current curfew and suspension of cellular services, landline phones are the only available option for communication in Gilgit, Chilas and Hunza-Nagar. Residents said landlines had become outdated following the introduction of mobile phones in the area.
An official in the Special Communication Organisation (SCO) said the demand for satellite phones has also increased along with the increased popularity of landlines.
Shah Raees, who works for a cellular network in Gilgit, said they were worried about the future of their business and had no idea when the service would be restored.
Cellular services commenced in Gilgit in 2006 after the government issued a no-objection certificate (NOC) to private operators to start their services in the region, where unlike the rest of the country, the communication is regularised by the Special Communication Organisation.

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