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UN Condemns Forced Marriages, Conversions in Pakistan

The experts lamented the prevailing culture of impunity, where perpetrators often evade accountability, with authorities dismissing crimes under the guise of ‘love marriages’…reports Asian Lite News

United Nations (UN) human rights experts sounded alarm at the lack of protection for women and girls belonging to minority communities in Pakistan, saying that they remained vulnerable to forced marriages and conversions, Dawn reported.

“Christian and Hindu girls remain particularly vulnerable to forced religious conversion, abduction, trafficking, child, early and forced marriage, domestic servitude, and sexual violence,” the experts said in a statement issued in Geneva on Thursday.

The chair of the working group on discrimination against women and girls, Dorothy Estrada Tanck, along with members Claudia Flores, Ivana Krstic, Haina Lu, and Laura Nyirinkindi, united with the experts in expressing grave concern over the prevailing situation, according to Dawn.

This collective action comes under the auspices of the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, encompassing independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms addressing specific country situations or thematic issues globally, as reported by Dawn.

In their joint statement released on Thursday, the UN experts underscored the intolerable nature of human rights violations faced by young women and girls from religious minority backgrounds.

“The exposure of young women and girls belonging to religious minority communities to such heinous human rights violations and the impunity of such crimes can no longer be tolerated or justified,” they said.

They particularly condemned the disturbing trend of forced marriages and religious conversions, often “validated by the courts, often invoking religious law to justify keeping victims with their abductors rather than allowing them to return them to their parents”.

The experts lamented the prevailing culture of impunity, where perpetrators often evade accountability, with authorities dismissing crimes under the guise of ‘love marriages’.

“Perpetrators often escape accountability, with police dismissing crimes under the guise of ‘love marriages’,” they said, as reported by Dawn.

They emphasised that child, early, and forced marriages could not be justified on religious or cultural grounds, asserting that consent was irrelevant when the victim was below 18, in accordance with international law.

In Pakistan, the legal marriage age stands at 16 for girls and 18 for boys. However, the experts stressed that a woman’s right to freely choose her spouse and enter into marriage was fundamental to her dignity and equality, necessitating robust legal protection.

“A woman’s right to choose a spouse and freely enter into marriage is central to her life, dignity and equality as a human being and must be protected and upheld by law,” the experts said.

They advocated for measures to invalidate or dissolve marriages contracted under duress, ensuring access to justice, remedy, and protection for victims.

“Notwithstanding the right of children to freedom of thought, conscience and religion in accordance with article 14 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, change of religion or belief in all circumstances must be free, without coercion and undue inducements,” the UN experts said.

“The Pakistani authorities must enact and rigorously enforce laws to ensure that marriages are contracted only with the free and full consent of the intended spouses, and that the minimum age for marriage is raised to 18, including for girls,” the experts stated, adding that all “women and girls must be treated without discrimination, including those belonging to the Christian and Hindu communities”.

Highlighting the urgency of bringing perpetrators to justice and upholding international human rights obligations, the experts urged Pakistan to rigorously enforce legal protections against child marriage, abduction, and trafficking of minority, Dawn reported. (ANI)

ALSO READ: Understanding Pakistan’s Struggle with Terrorism

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India-Luxembourg hold foreign office talks

The talks were centered on strengthening ties, with special attention given to sectors such as the diamond industry, semiconductors, and sustainable growth…reports Asian Lite News

In a notable gathering held in New Delhi on Tuesday, April 9, 2024, India’s External Affairs Minister (EAM), S Jaishankar, and Theodora Gentzis, Secretary-General of the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, convened to discuss strategies for deepening economic and political collaboration among India, Belgium, and the European Union (EU). The talks were centered on strengthening ties, with special attention given to sectors such as the diamond industry, semiconductors, and sustainable growth.

EAM Jaishankar expressed his contentment over hosting Gentzis, highlighting the discussions on mutual economic and political interests.

“Pleased to receive Secretary General @BelgiumMFA Theodora Gentzis today. Discussed strengthening economic and political cooperation between India, Belgium and the EU. Took up the concerns of our diamond industry. Also exchanged views on semiconductors and green growth,” EAM Jaishankar posted on social media platform X.

Earlier, Gentzis also engaged with Minister of State (MoS) for External Affairs Meenakshi Lekhi, discussing methods to strengthen bilateral ties.

“Pleasure meeting Ms. Theodora Gentzis, Secretary General at Belgium MFA today. Reiterated our commitment to further deepen our close, friendly and multifaceted ties,” MoS Lekhi posted on X after their meeting on Monday (April 8, 2024).

These discussions are a continuation of the diplomatic engagement following last month’s telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Belgian PM Alexander De Croo, where both leaders deliberated on advancing the India-EU Partnership under the Belgian Presidency.

The two leaders discussed ways to further strengthen the bilateral partnership in diverse sectors including trade, investment, clean technologies, semiconductors, pharmaceuticals, green hydrogen, IT, defence, ports, among other others, the MEA said after their conversation on March 26, 2024.

Historically, Belgium was one of the first European nations to establish diplomatic ties with independent India in September 1947. The relationship has been marked by high-level visits, shared democratic values, and robust economic engagement. Trade, particularly in diamonds, has been a significant aspect of the bilateral relations, complemented by investments and cooperation in various sectors like science and technology, renewable energy, and education.

The latest discussions reinforce the commitment of both nations to strengthen the strategic partnership, with an emphasis on technology, environment-friendly growth, and trade, continuing the legacy of cooperation and mutual respect that has characterized India-Belgium relations for decades. (India News Network )

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Beijing slams US-Japan-Philippines summit, defends SCS actions

China, which claims most of the South China Sea, rebuffed the trilateral summit, accusing the participating countries of manipulating bloc politics…reports Asian Lite News

Beijing responded critically on Friday to a trilateral meeting hosted by US President Joe Biden, which included Japan and the Philippines, addressing concerns over Beijing’s actions in the South China Sea. Biden’s pledge to defend the Philippines from any attack in the region sparked tension amid repeated confrontations between Chinese and Philippine vessels. The joint statement issued by the US, Japan, and the Philippines voiced serious concern over Beijing’s behavior, labeling it as dangerous and aggressive.

China, which claims most of the South China Sea, rebuffed the trilateral summit, accusing the participating countries of manipulating bloc politics and engaging in behavior detrimental to regional stability. Beijing emphasized its opposition to closed cliques excluding others in the region and criticized Japan and the Philippines for trilateral cooperation that allegedly undermines Chinese interests.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning defended China’s actions in the East and South China Seas as lawful and appropriate, dismissing criticisms as baseless attacks. Meanwhile, Biden assured Japan and the Philippines of the US’ ironclad defense commitments, emphasizing the importance of their alliance in maintaining peace and democracy in the Asia-Pacific region.

During the historic meeting, the leaders underscored their commitment to the rules-based international order, implicitly contrasting their alliance with China’s actions. Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida highlighted the significance of multi-layered cooperation, emphasizing the meeting’s historical significance. Biden also held separate talks with Marcos, indicating a continued effort to strengthen ties between the US and its allies in the region.

ALSO READ: China Emphasises Peaceful India-China Relations

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ICCR Marks 75th Foundation Day

ICCR’s approach to cultural diplomacy encompasses a broad spectrum of activities aimed at reviving and strengthening international cultural relations…reports Asian Lite News

The 75th Foundation Day of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) was celebrated on Tuesday, marking a significant milestone in its journey of enriching India’s diplomatic relations through cultural exchanges. Established on April 9, 1950, by Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, India’s inaugural Education Minister, ICCR has played a pivotal role in fostering mutual understanding and fostering cultural bonds between India and the global community.

The foundation of ICCR was a strategic move towards establishing India’s soft power diplomacy, acknowledging the importance of cultural relations in international diplomacy. Over the years, ICCR has evolved into a global ambassador of Indian culture, operating through its extensive network of cultural centres and diplomatic missions worldwide.

Global Cultural Initiatives

ICCR’s approach to cultural diplomacy encompasses a broad spectrum of activities aimed at reviving and strengthening international cultural relations. By running 37 Cultural Centres globally, ICCR facilitates the exchange of artistic and cultural values, thereby fostering global peace and understanding. These centres serve as hubs for cultural exchange, hosting numerous events that showcase the diversity of Indian culture.

One of the Council’s notable initiatives is the organization of international webinars and festivals that highlight India’s rich textile and artistic heritage. For instance, the “Weaving Relations: Textile Traditions” webinar, held on October 3, 2020, brought together artists and artisans from various countries to share their textile traditions, promoting a global appreciation for the craftsmanship and cultural narratives embedded in their work.

Educational and Cultural Exchange Programs

ICCR’s educational exchange programs have significantly contributed to promoting international understanding. Through scholarships and cultural exchanges, the Council has facilitated educational opportunities for foreign students in India, thereby nurturing a global network of alumni who act as ambassadors of goodwill and friendship between their home countries and India.

The ICCR offers an extensive range of over 3,000 scholarships across 21 different programs, catering to international students from more than 180 countries. Six of these programmes are funded by ICCR, while the remaining are funded by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Ministry of Ayush.

The Council’s role in India’s external cultural relations extends to the strategic implementation of cultural diplomacy initiatives. These efforts are designed not only to showcase India’s cultural richness but also to build enduring international relationships. ICCR’s cultural events abroad, such as dance performances, music concerts, and art exhibitions, play a crucial role in projecting India’s soft power and fostering diplomatic relations.

ICCR’s Regional and Global Impact

The regional offices of ICCR across India collaborate with state governments, enhancing the domestic cultural landscape while also supporting the Council’s global mission. These partnerships facilitate the representation of India’s diverse cultural heritage on the international stage, ensuring that the cultural exchanges are reflective of the country’s rich tapestry of traditions and art forms.

The ‘Northeast Japan Caravan’ in Shillong (November 9, 2023), showcasing Judo and Karate demonstrations, is an example of how ICCR promotes cultural fusion and understanding. Such events underline the importance of cultural diplomacy in strengthening bilateral relations and enhancing people-to-people ties.

The ICCR’s sponsorship of cultural groups like the Sankalp Odishi Dance Group emphasizes the Council’s commitment to promoting Indian classical dance forms globally. Their 2023 performances in countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, have not only showcased the elegance and depth of Indian dance but also played a pivotal role in building cultural bridges and enhancing India’s cultural ties with these nations.

As the ICCR celebrates its 75th foundation day, its achievements in promoting India’s cultural heritage globally stand remains renowned with the enduring value of cultural diplomacy. The Council’s efforts in fostering international goodwill through cultural exchange continue to contribute significantly to India’s diplomatic endeavours, promoting a world that values cultural diversity and mutual respect. ( India News Network)

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Israel Warns of Firm Action in Response to Iranian Threats

Gallant detailed the Israeli preparations and emphasised that Israel “will not tolerate an Iranian attack on its territory…reports Asian Lite News

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant has vowed an “appropriate response” if Iran attacks his country’s territory.

“A direct Iranian attack on Israeli territory will require an appropriate Israeli response against Iran,” Gallant told US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin on Thursday during a phone conversation on preparations for a possible Iranian retaliatory attack, Xinhua news agency reported.

During the conversation, Gallant detailed the Israeli preparations and emphasised that Israel “will not tolerate an Iranian attack on its territory”.

It was the second time the two officials had talked over the past week.

The US Intelligence officials have assessed that Iran could launch a counter-attack soon in response to the killing of seven Iranians in an Israeli airstrike on Iran’s consulate in Syria on April 1.

Earlier on Thursday, Commander of the US Central Command Michael Kurilla arrived in Israel for talks with Gallant and Herzi Halevi, the Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, to coordinate responses to a potential Iranian attack.

ALSO READ: High Downside Risks for Pakistan’s Economy: ADB

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Understanding Pakistan’s Struggle with Terrorism

Terror attacks have surged in Pakistan in tandem with the resurgence of the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan, writes Dr. Sakariya Kareem

Pakistan’s relationship with Afghanistan, a complex and turbulent one, is driven by its geopolitical ambitions and strategic concerns. Historically, Pakistan has pursued policies aimed at diminishing India’s influence in the region, often at the expense of stability in Afghanistan. This intricate strategy has involved supporting radical factions within Afghanistan, including groups like the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, through various means such as intelligence cooperation, the provision of weaponry, and offering sanctuary. Despite pressure from international actors, notably the United States, Pakistan has persistently been reluctant to alter its approach, even as sporadic attempts at fostering strategic partnerships through economic aid have been made.

The motivations underlying Pakistan’s actions are multifaceted. Firstly, Pakistan is apprehensive about the prospect of an unstable Afghanistan becoming a safe- haven for anti-Pakistani militant groups, thereby escalating regional instability. Consequently, Pakistan views maintaining ties with the Taliban as strategically imperative, albeit reluctantly, considering the group as a necessary ally among Afghanistan’s political actors.

Furthermore, Pakistan faces internal challenges in countering terrorism, particularly in its Punjab heartland, where targeting militant groups aligned with Afghanistan could incite retaliatory attacks. This underscores Pakistan’s limited control over the militants it has historically supported, a reality it hesitates to acknowledge due to potential domestic and international ramifications.

Security personnel examine the blast site in southwest Pakistan’s Quetta. (File Photo by Asad/Xinhua/IANS)

Additionally, Pakistan is wary of the emergence of a robust Afghan government aligned with India, perceiving it as a strategic threat that could encircle Pakistan. This apprehension was accentuated in President Trump’s 2017 speech on Afghanistan, where he hinted at leveraging India’s influence to pressure Pakistan, primarily through economic means. Despite assurances recognising Pakistan’s legitimate interests in Afghanistan, Pakistan remains cautious of India’s expanding role, including perceived support for Baluchi separatist groups within Pakistan. Consequently, gestures from the United States to improve India-Pakistan relations may inadvertently heighten Pakistan’s concerns about India’s regional influence.

Terror attacks have surged in Pakistan in tandem with the resurgence of the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan. According to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, over 1,500 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Pakistan in 2023, marking a 50% increase from 2021 and triple the number in 2020. The Islamic State Khorasan (ISKP), an affiliate of the Islamic State, has claimed responsibility for numerous attacks, including the bombing targeting the convention of Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI), an Islamist political party within Pakistan’s coalition government. Paradoxically, while sharing ideological similarities with the TTP, the JUI’s participation in constitutional-democratic processes has led to its condemnation by the Islamic State as “hypocrites.”

Pakistan’s struggle with terrorism traces back to the late 1990s when local veterans of the U.S.-backed mujahideen in Afghanistan redirected their focus to domestic issues. Despite Pakistan’s apparent alliance with the United States in the Global War on Terror post-9/11, it failed to dismantle jihadist groups operating within its territory fully. The toll of this approach has been devastating, with over 16,225 terror attacks reported since 2000, resulting in 66,601 deaths, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal.

(Xinhua/Huang Zongzhi) (syq)

Groups like the Afghan Taliban have received substantial support from the Pakistani government despite their ties with Al-Qaeda. This support stems from Pakistan’s military objectives to secure more significant influence in Afghanistan relative to its rival, India, following the U.S. withdrawal. Concurrently, Pakistani authorities have taken a hardline stance against international terror groups such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, as well as groups perpetrating sectarian violence or insurgency against Pakistani authorities.

While Pakistani officials may draw distinctions between various jihadist factions, militants often operate without such nuance. Despite theological differences, their commitment to jihad remains steadfast. The discovery of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad before his death in a U.S. operation in 2011 underscores the resilience of Pakistan’s jihadist infrastructure. Although Pakistan collaborated with the U.S. in apprehending other Al-Qaeda leaders between 2001 and 2011, bin Laden’s ability to evade detection for years highlights potential support from non-priority jihadi groups.

Under former Prime Minister Imran Khan, Pakistan initiated a ceasefire agreement with the TTP, which later collapsed amid allegations of military aggression. The subsequent government rejected the TTP’s demands for implementing Islamic law in bordering districts, attributing terror attacks to its splinter factions. While Pakistan’s military leadership has pledged a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy targeting all violent extremist groups, its implementation remains pending. Without decisive action, new offshoots and splinter groups of existing jihadist movements will continue to emerge, perpetuating a cycle of violence.

A Pakistan Elite Police Force commandos takes part in a drill to fight against militants at a school in northwest Pakistan’s Peshawar. (Xinhua/Ahmad Sidique/IANS)

In conclusion, Pakistan’s intricate relationship with Afghanistan, shaped by strategic imperatives and historical alliances, has contributed to regional instability and a persistent terrorism threat within its borders. Despite external pressures and intermittent attempts to recalibrate its approach, Pakistan’s reluctance to sever ties with certain militant groups underscores the complexities of navigating its security landscape. Addressing these challenges demands concerted efforts from Pakistan, its regional neighbours, and international partners to confront terrorism comprehensively and foster stability in the region.

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High Downside Risks for Pakistan’s Economy: ADB

The ADB said that Pakistan’s growth is projected to remain subdued in FY2024 and pick up in FY2025, provided economic reforms take effect….reports Asian Lite News

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has said that Pakistan’s economic outlook remains uncertain with high risks on the downside.

“Political uncertainty that affects macroeconomic policy-making will remain a key risk to the sustainability of stabilisation and reform efforts,” ADB said.

On the external front, potential supply chain disruptions from the escalation of the conflict in the Middle East would weigh on the economy. With Pakistan’s large external financing requirements and weak external buffers, disbursement from multilateral and bilateral partners remains crucial. However, these inflows could be hampered by lapses in policy implementation, ADB said in its outlook.

Further IMF support for a medium-term reform agenda would considerably improve the market sentiment and catalyse affordable external financing from other sources, ADB said.

The ADB also said that Pakistan’s growth is projected to remain subdued in FY2024 and pick up in FY2025, provided economic reforms take effect. Real GDP is projected to grow by 1.9 per cent in FY2024, driven by a rebound in private sector investment linked to progress on reform measures and transition to a new and more stable government.

Pakistan’s economy shrank as floods, political uncertainty, and disrupted external support caused public investment to plunge and private investment and industry to contract. Inflation reached a five-decade high as supply disruption and currency depreciation propelled increases in food and energy prices, ADB said.

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India Offers Advanced Defence Gear to Lanka

Indian High Commissioner said that India’s defence exports stand at nearly 2.6 billion US Dollars a year…reports Asian Lite News

Indian High Commissioner in Colombo Santosh Jha on Wednesday said that India is prepared to share the advanced defence equipment with Sri Lanka.

“We are not only producing our national requirements but we are also willing to make these capabilities available to our friendly partner countries like Sri Lanka,” the High Commissioner said.

He said that India’s defence exports stand at nearly 2.6 billion US Dollars a year.

He said that following the vision of Atmanirbhar Bharat or ‘self-reliant India’, there is a significant capability development within the Indian defence industry.

“Our government has promoted this vision through enabling policies and frameworks, initiatives such as the establishment of defence industry corridors, and supporting and handholding different stakeholders,” the High Commissioner said adding that the defence industry has been promoted to collaborations between private and government-owned enterprises.

He said that India has invested in research and development and promoted the use of innovation and new-age technologies to build the capabilities that are future-ready.

He said that the Indian defence industry today rolls out state-of-the-art systems, advanced technologies and world-class equipment which ranges from fighter aircraft and helicopters to naval vessels, from electronic warfare systems to cyber security solutions and from small arms to large-calibre precision long-range artillery systems.

The High Commissioner said that over the last five-year there has been a ten-fold increase in defence exports. “India has exported defence hardware and software to more than 85 countries while more than 100 indigenous firms are active in the field,” he said.

The Envoy also explained the support extended to Sri Lanka, during the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic crisis.

“We are driven by the sense of responsibility and obligation for closest friend and neighbour. We stood shoulder-to-shoulder with our civilisational twins when it was needed most, and without any hesitation,” he said.

The High Commissioner reiterated that India’s approach to Sri Lanka was guided by the neighborhood-first policy and SAGAR vision.

“For us, as close and proximate neighbours, cooperation is the only option. It is not driven by choice and opportunity alone,” he added.

ALSO READ: Lanka Seeks Debt Moratorium Till 2027 Amid Crisis

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Sharjah Airport Spreads Eid Cheer with Passengers

The Airport employees welcomed passengers, while offering sweets and hospitality …reports Asian Lite News

Sharjah Airport embraced the spirit of Eid Al Fitr, marking the culmination of Ramadan, by creating a festive ambiance filled with joy and celebration. The airport radiated the essence of Eid, resonating with its religious and social significance, to delight passengers and honor this special occasion.

The Airport employees welcomed passengers, while offering sweets and hospitality. This initiative, which Sharjah Airport regularly implements, is part of its institutional values to enhance social communication with passengers and add unforgettable value to their occasions and holidays of all kinds, contributing to their preparation for spending unique times and special moments with their families and friends throughout the Eid days in the emirate of Sharjah.

Passengers expressed their happiness with this warm gesture from Sharjah Airport and shared their keenness to make Sharjah Airport their first choice for trips to and from the UAE, due to the leading service system it dedicates to passengers and customers while caring for their comfort and safety.

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TTP, Sunni groups target Shias in Gilgit Baltistan

Terrorist group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other Sunni groups are planning to carry out suicide attacks against the Shias in Gilgit Baltistan. Many believe that such attacks are carried out with the complicity of the state security agencies. There are reports of four suicide bombers given the task to re-enact the 1988 Gilgit massacre … writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

Several thousand Shias in Gilgit Baltistan are living under constant dread, fearing unprovoked attacks from Sunni groups and the state’s complicity with such groups to suppress the Shias in the mountainous region.

The region was once dominated by the Shias, the only region other than Iran. But in the past few decades, Pakistan state, especially its army, has been engaged in a demographic war, harassing, killing and frightening Shias to such an extent that Shias are today in the minority. The bloodletting has not stopped even now. Every festival, Shias have to look over their shoulder to save themselves from terrorist attacks or targeted killings, at the behest of the army.

This time around, during Ramzan and Eid, Shias fear another round of killing and harassment.

There is a great fear that terrorist groups like Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are planning to carry out suicide attacks against the Shias. Many believe that such attacks are carried out with the complicity of the state security agencies. There are reports of four suicide bombers given the task to re-enact the 1988 Gilgit massacre.

The hand of the security agencies in the killings is seen in the involvement of extremist Sunni groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Anjuman Sipah-e-Sahaba and many of their offshoots which have been targeting the Shias since the Zia-ul-Haq days. The worst Shia massacre happened in 1988.

In May 1988, during the Eid festival, local Shias decided to hold the festivities before the Sunnis which caused a dispute which soon turned into arson and killing. The Pakistan army sent an armed group of Sunni tribals accompanied by militants from Afghanistan led by Osama bin Laden causing mayhem in the region, killing over 900 Shias in the massacre.

Although the federal government has also issued a grave warning, local Shia population has no faith in the government. They are today living under constant fear. The Shias have been asked to be extra vigilant during the Friday and Eid prayers.

The distrust between the government and Shias has been brewing since last year when a Shia cleric was arrested under trumped-up blasphemy charges. The protests raged for days with the people shouting “Chalo, chalo Kargil chalo” (let us go to Kargil). The cleric, Agha Baqir al-Hussaini, is a popular leader of the Shias and his arrest angered the community which blocked the Karakoram Highway to demand his release.

In August 2012, about 25 Shias were pulled out a bus and shot in a sectarian attack. The same year, on February 28, gunmen in military fatigues threw 18 Shias from buses travelling from Rawalpindi to Gilgit, shooting them dead in cold blood. On April 3, a Sunni Muslim mob dragged nine Shia Muslims from buses and also shot them dead in the town of Chilas, about 60 miles south of Gilgit.

Even after several killings, the state has failed to provide adequate security for the safety of the Shias in Gilgit Baltistan. There is only one reason for this callous indifference: Sunni Pakistan wants to convert the region into a Sunni-dominated region.