In the wake of the latest terror alert notifications issued by security agencies to the government of Gilgit-Baltistan. Unconfirmed reports regarding the potential threat of terrorism and the possible entrance of suspected terrorists in Gilgit-Baltistan create yet continuous challenges to longstanding prosperity and peace in Gilgit-Baltistan, for which GB is known at the national and global levels.

Tourism is now the backbone of G-B’s economy and Pakistan’s economy. In 2022, according to government data, a total number of 2 billion tourists visited Gilgit-Baltistan. According to the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), about 50% of G-B families depend on tourism. The region has been home to nature, hosting the world’s highest peaks (K-2 world’s second highest peak) and spectacular mountain ranges (Karakoram, Hamaylas, and Hindukash).

Tourism is under pressing challenges due to terrorism. However, terrorism is mostly linked to the area that connects G-B with Pakistan’s province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where many terror attacks in the past have taken place to which region’s security situation becomes uncertain.

Tourists fear to travel amidst security alerts. Security has been beefed up in all districts of G-B amidst high-security alerts.

Gilgit-Baltistan has been confronted with sectarian violence for the past decades. The first serious sectarian violence in G-B was reported in 1983. In 1988, a rumour alleging a Sunni massacre at the hands of Shias resulted in an attack by thousands of armed tribesmen from the south, the killing of nearly four hundred Shias, and the burning of several Shia villages, the period marks as black days in history also known as 1988 sectarian tension.

In 2012, a resurgence of sectarian violence triggered on two routes that connected Gilgit-Baltistan to Islamabad where terrorists had attacked particularly Shias travellers, resulting in the killing of sixty Shias which heightened the sectarian tension in the region and burnt the peace of the region in fire.  The region was burning in the fire of sectarianism while the indigenous population was aspiring to seek peace and harmony but couldn’t predict any end of hostilities rather at the time in the past, the heat of violence and social divisions were getting more fierce.

By the time security agencies and the unequivocal support of local communities paved the leading and driving force behind restoring peace and development which the people were dreaming of. It is noteworthy that a peaceful Gilgit-Baltistan indicates peaceful Pakistan and South Asia. It is ideally situated for trade and commerce and positioned at the junction of China, Central and South Asia, and Afghanistan.

Despite historic sacrifices laid down by indigenous populations who had dreams for a better tomorrow, the road to restoring lasting peace and free of violence has been challenging. The region has been under threat of terror attacks and groups are resurging and remerging with a gradual rise in power to drag the region back to a time of terror and insecurity.  The resurgence of terror has been followed by the latest suicide attack on Chinese nationals in which 6 Chinese engineers and a Pakistani bus driver were killed in Shangla, a district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

The Chinese nationals were working on a Chinese-funded multi-billion dollar project, Dasu Dam, located in the upper Kohistan district, that will generate 4320 MW of electricity upon completion.

The project began in July 2017, and the total cost of its construction was estimated at around $ 4.2 billion. The suicide attack by terrorists on the Chinese in Pakistan reveals that Pakistan and China’s deep and cordial friendship marks a lasting threat and is despised by their enemies.

The pak-china joint economic venture is a game changer under the flagship project of China’s One Belt One Road Initiative (BRI), and its gateway project, CPEC (China-Pakistan economic corridor) a $65 billion project, aimed at connecting China’s north-western Xinjiang province to the port of Gwadar in Pakistan’s Balochistan province. Another multi-dollar project at a nearby distance from the Dasu Dam site is the Diamer Basha Dam. The dam is under construction on the Indus River and its total cost is estimated at around $ 8.5 Billion. It will generate 4500 MW of electricity and be a huge water reservoir to sustain the irrigation system of Pakistan.

The dilemma is that the multi-dollar project CPEC between Pakistan and China has been attacking and trying to sabotage it but little change at all has occurred while terrorists are being given free hands and space to target Pakistan’s economic lifeline and G-B which is the gateway to CPEC and lies at a strategic location. The unflappable approach ought to be ousted and replaced by a long-term understanding and vow to joint efforts to counter the potential threat of terror attacks to any development schemes in Pakistan.

It’s an hourly to address terrorism subject to all the stakeholders including China as their nationals have been victims of terror attacks in Pakistan, and seek sustainable and joint efforts toward a solution. One can’t afford to lose lives while other actors are becoming a nightmare and harming national security and interests slyly. In this regard, the time to secure G-B from all possible terror attacks has approached, and pivotal strategic roads under CPEC-like projects must be surveilled under the Pak-China defence agreement as Pakistan and China have defence agreements to counter common challenges to regional security.

G-B is a gateway to CPEC and has enough potential to become the tourism capital of the world, so by all means its security shouldn’t be volatile and breached.

Pakistan should now realize that we can’t afford to replace our relationship with China based on long-term understanding and brotherly relationships with China based on suspicious and recalcitrant relations. Chinese foreign ministry in response to the recent terror attack on its nationals has urged Pakistani authorities to speed up the hunt of culprits and masterminds involved in the killing of Chinese nationals in Pakistan.

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