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Harmonising Sectarian Cacophonies

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Sectarian discord has become a real challenge in many parts of Pakistan including in Gilgit-Baltistan. In fact, Gilgit-Baltistan, resided by several Muslim communities of faith, has been susceptible to sectarian conflicts for last many decades. In this regard, among other factors, religious education is generally seen as responsible for social divides along sectarian identities. Therefore, it necessitates an effective educational response through some curricular and pedagogical transformations pertaining to teaching about Islam. 

The purpose of religious education, as Andrew Wright precisely proposes in Religious Education in the Secondary Schools: Prospects for Religious Literacy, is to produce ‘religiously literate individuals’ who demonstrate commitment to their own traditions while respecting fellow citizens’ religious worldviews. In Pakistan generally and in Gilgit-Baltistan particularly, religious education offered in public schools or in denominational settings, with a few exceptions,  does not seem to serve this essential purpose because of its exclusive bent to the teaching of Islam.

In a religiously diverse society, a sectarian approach to religious education may not produce positive results as it tends to generate unsustainable generalisations based on one particular interpretation of Islam. Consequently, the sectarianised religious education appears to promote what is called ‘religious illiteracy’ among learners who neglect the rich diversity within Islam. More disturbingly, religious illiteracy readily renders itself to condemnation for diversity, intolerance, and violence that cause sectarian polarisation. 

In Pakistan, the curricular and pedagogical methods usually incline to present Islam from a particular theological lens while masking parallel Muslim traditions. For example, the curricula around religious education depict Islam, as Madiha Afzal in her Pakistan under Siege: Extremism, Society and State notes, from a narrow theological point of view in an erroneous attempt to create a uniform national identity. Unfortunately, such a content, as Hussein Rashid argues, creates ‘a normative Islam against which other Muslims are measured’ and results in sectarian controversies. In Gilgit-Baltistan, for example, this kind of a curriculum has created the ‘Textbook Controversy’ in early 2000 that further harmed a precarious social cohesion in the region. The problem with such curricula about Islam is that they cultivate mutual misunderstandings among students by creating strict binaries of ‘true’ or ‘false’ and ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. These problematic binaries morph into sectarian bigotries that eventually disturb sectarian harmony in the society.  

In addition to the sectarian curricula, most religious educators, as Javed Ali Khalhoro and Elexander Cromwell maintain in Teaching Peace and Conflict, are unable to rise above their personal devotional prejudices and therefore project an essentialised notion of Islam through their classroom teaching practices. This teacher-centered pedagogy, unlike the student-centered and problem-posing methods, leads to a homogeneous and ahistorical representation of Islam. Here, students are presented a simplified version of Islam by inaccurately equating it with a certain politically dominant narrative. Thus, the existing teaching about Islam serves the purposes of power rather than facilitating a critical engagement with Muslim traditions. 

So, the sectarianised religious education forms, according to Tariq Rahman, a rejectionist mind-set among learners who display intolerant, un-critical, and self-righteous attitudes that usually damage interfaith harmony. Therefore, it can be argued that the prevailing religious education about Islam normally engenders religious illiteracy about various Muslim communities among the educated people in the country. 

Here, one may inquire: what kind of curricular and pedagogical models towards education about Islam may benefit our societies? In this respect, some scholars of education about religion maintain that it depends on how religious education is conceptualised, developed, and implemented. 

In order to promote sectarian harmony, a cultural studies approach suggested by Dianne Moore may be beneficial as it adopts a non-sectarian and multi-disciplinary methodology towards Islam as a civilisation. Unlike the sectarian approach, it emphasises not only the devotional aspects but also covers the socio-political, economic, artistic, cultural, and intellectual endeavours of Muslim communities historically as well as in the contemporary times. By doing so, the cultural studies approach attempts to present Islam in terms of unity as well as diversity. For example, it highlights the fundamental beliefs that all Muslim communities of interpretation share and situates notions of authority and leadership that mark them distinct from one another. 

Historically, Muslim communities have developed some distinctive interpretations around leadership after Hazrat Muhammad (PBUH). In this connection, initially two major communities emerged over the succession to the Prophet (PBUH). Gradually, within these main communities, further divisions emerged based on the question of succession and leadership. Hence, Muslims’ different understandings of leadership in the post-prophetic age resulted in diverse expressions that informed their respective devotional practices over times. Therefore, education about Islam should reflect these similarities as well as distinctions among Muslim schools of thought to celebrate the commonalities and to appreciate the differences.

In addition, a cultural studies approach tries to portray Islam as a dynamic religion instead of one frozen in a certain time and place. In contrast to the sectarian approach, it does not remove Islam from the flows of history and human agency. Instead it endeavours to demonstrate that Islam has emerged and evolved in relation to varying socio-political and historical contexts. In this way, Islam can be understood historically, critically, and contextually in order to better situate it in the contemporary times in terms of its diverse expressions. 

Furthermore, pedagogically, a cultural studies approach towards teaching of Islam enables students to question, critique, and contextualise religious ideas and institutions in an informed manner. In this process, it strives to nurture historical thinking skills, critical analysis and positive attitudes such as tolerance, appreciation for diversity, and openness for discussion. In the meantime, students are empowered to understand and appreciate diversity as something to be lived with and negotiated creatively. Thus, instead of masticating prejudices, students should be allowed to process religious perspectives by reflecting upon them from multiple dimensions. 

Indeed, promoting religious literacy is one of the effective ways to address the prevailing challenges of sectarian dissonance in our respective contexts. This requires a robust religious education system. In fact, the desired religious literacy can be attained through a pluralistic representation of Islam as a civilisation in conjunction with educators’ professional development. These transformative curricular and pedagogical improvements can create favorable learning opportunities that will help learners grow positively as individuals, as members of their communities, of society, and of humanity at large. 

Most importantly, in the process of harmonising sectarian cacophony in Gilgit-Baltistan, Karakoram International University can play a central role in terms of conducting research, curriculum development, and designing teacher education pertaining to education about Islam as a faith as well as a civilisation. 

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Food Insecurity and Nutrition Challenges in Gilgit-Baltistan: From Adolescence to Motherhood

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food insecurity

Gilgit-Baltistan, the mountainous region, is situated on the northern outskirts of Pakistan and has a population of around 2.1 million, with 49% female and 50.8% male. The growth rate is 2.15, and the total fertility rate is 4.7. It is known for its stunning natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and strategic significance.  

The total area of GB is 72971 sq km, but mountains and glaciers cover the most significant part, about 66% of the total area. The total cultivable land is only 2%, and 50% are cultivable.  Due to limited cultivable land and urban sprawl, Gilgit city has diminished available farmland, replacing fertile fields with concrete structures. This expansion has disrupted the traditional agricultural landscape. Along with this, the dramatically increasing population and climate change reinforce food insecurity in the region.

GB is facing many socio-economic, cultural, and environmental challenges.  The lack of infrastructure and inadequate connectivity to the rest of the world posed a considerable challenge.  Lack of access to quality healthcare services and education is another potential hindrance. Food Insecurity is one of the significant challenges in the region.  Food insecurity is when an individual or household lacks access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain an active and healthy life.

fruits gilgit baltistan - food gilgit baltistan

Food insecurity is the primary cause of malnutrition, which refers to deficiencies or excesses in nutrient intake, imbalance of essential nutrients, or impaired nutrient utilization. Current inflation, poverty, recurring disasters, and political and economic volatility drive food insecurity in the region of GB. Food insecurity leads to all forms of malnutrition, i.e., undernutrition, hidden hunger, and overnutrition. 

Malnutrition among children under 5 is an emerging issue in the region. According to the National Nutrition Survey- 2018, the nutritional status of children under five in GB is alarming and needs to be addressed at the earliest convenience.  46.6% of children are stunted under five, 12.2% suffer from wasting, and the overweight percentage is 9.4. 

Another concerning factor contributing to malnutrition is poor maternal and child health care practices from the conception of pregnancy to the second birth of a child, the initial 1000 days. Not all mothers are sufficiently informed about the importance of breastfeeding during 1000 golden days.

The National Nutrition Survey (NNS 2018) indicates that 20.1% of women start early breastfeeding initiation and 54.9% exclusive breastfeeding in the region. The PSLM 2018 Indicates women of reproductive age, overweight women are 19.6%, and underweight women are 10.1%.

Children under the age of five suffer from chronic poor nutritional status due to deficient intake of some of the essential micronutrients like vitamin A, vitamin D, Zinc, folic acid, and iron during critical stages of physiological changes of pregnancy and child growth.  These figures of malnutrition under the age of 5 worsen due to the recurring floods and looming inflation in the GB.

The issue of maternal children’s health and nutrition needs to be addressed urgently as it is emerging and affecting countless households.

There is a critical window of golden opportunity from conception to two years of age to prevent child stunting. During these 1000 days, a healthy diet and proper care are essential. Maternal micronutrient supplements (MMS) programs prevent and control nutrient-related deficiencies in pregnant and lactating mothers and infants. Iron and Folic Acid (IFA) are highly beneficial for adolescents and pregnant mothers to prevent anemia.

Adolescence (12-15) is the second-fastest growth period after infancy. This growth period is the second window of golden opportunity as the adolescent growth stage describes the onset and progression of pubertal changes known as the Tanner stage. Nutrient and caloric requirements are significantly increased to meet growth and developmental demand correlated with the tanner stage. The estimated caloric requirement for adolescent girls is 2070 to 2400 per day, with a protein requirement of 46g. This requirement should be met for healthy growth and development.

Proper Nutrition at the right time, especially during adolescence, can secure the healthy well-being of mothers and children and lead to a healthier generation. To address the malnutrition and nutritional needs of infants, mothers, and adolescent girls, UNICEF has developed 10 interventions. These interventions not only improve the nutritional status of children, but also of mothers and adolescent girls.

Action 1: Breastfeeding within the first hour of life is vital to children’s survival.

Action 2: Exclusive Breastfeeding in the six months of life makes the child healthier.

Action 3: Solid foods and mothers’ milk after months of age help infants increase and grow.

Action 4: The right Foods in the quantity and quality fed frequently from 6 to 24 months ensure optimal growth and development.

Action 5: Good hygiene and clean hands keep young children healthy and strong.

Action 6: Iron and vitamin A supplementation and deworming protect young children from disease and anemia.

Action 7: Nutritious food given frequently during and after illness is necessary for the child’s recovery.

Action 8: Life-saving food and care given at the right time, save severely malnourished children.

Action 9: Improving adolescent girls’ nutrition today will secure children’s nutrition tomorrow.

Action 10: Better nutrition, particularly during pregnancy and lactation, are essential to women’s health. 

This essential nutrition should be implemented in households and among family members, especially husbands, who should be informed about the proper nutritional care for lactating and pregnant mothers. Girls at their adolescent age should be taught about proper nutrition care and its importance for the rest of their lives and their maternal life.  

Maintaining a nutritious diet with a healthy lifestyle during adolescence can pave the way for healthy mothers, and a healthy mother, in turn, lays the foundation for a healthy generation.

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Development Planning in Gilgit-Baltistan – The Missing Link  {A reflection}

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Mr. Sajjad Hyder, Chief Economist, Planning & Development department has recently retired from his service after serving almost three decades, commencing from April 1993 to November 30, 2022. He, as Chief Economist, was responsible for leading public Investment management policies for designing and implementing various socioeconomic development projects and programs in the region.  Moreover, concoction of substantive policies for socioeconomic development in all sections was also part of his job responsibilities.

The retired officer, Mr. Sajjad Hyder, has shared the following reflection, regarding public investment management in GB, which is based on his 30 years of exposure as a development planning practitioner:  

Development Planning in Gilgit-Baltistan – Missing Link

Historical background: The development economics was born immediately after the second world war with the birth of the Breton Woods international financial system to facilitate development and eradicate poverty in the countries that were emerging out of colonialism. The Planning commission Pakistan was formally established in 1953 with the Harvard Advisory Group (HAG) officially became its coach soon after. Based on their methodology, the country introduced formal 5-year planning in 1955 which with periodic interregnums continues until today. In Gilgit-Baltistan, development planning starts with the inception of 2nd Five Year plan by establishing a Planning Cell in 1971.

It is not out of place here to say that most of the project cycle management components in GB have fallen into misuse, while others have developed serious defects. Following are the major gaps, in my observation over last 30 years with the department:

REASONS OF INEFFICIENCY IN DEVELOPMENT PLANNING IN GILGIT-BALTISTAN:

As indicated earlier, Public Investment Management in Gilgit Baltistan starts from 2nd five-year plan.  This system served well the needs of this region in
early stages as the planning & development department was an empowered organization headed by a development commissioner in BS 20. Over time, however, the system developed several problems due to degradation of the organization in view of successive political developments in the region. Presently, Gilgit-Baltistan’s PIM system (development planning) is mere shadow of the concept given by the Harvard Advisory Group, meaning, in capacity, influence and effectiveness.

To understand the sources of inefficiency, it is necessary to review all the stages in the public investment process to identifying gaps and weak points in the processes and procedures.

 Guidance and Screening: Identification and screening components of PIM are badly compromised due to atrophy of economic planning in Gilgit-Baltistan.  Three broad factors were mainly responsible for the waning performance of the PIM system in GB: 

1) Rigidities of the PIM system: The structure of the economy changed from a public sector led to a private sector led economy. This structural changed called for a different role of the planning system, in general, and particularly, the role of P&DD. This required different skills and competencies than what are available with the department. 2) Dominance of crisis management over economic management: As projects started to slow down due to economic policy and planning adopted in firefighting mode. Longer term planning as well as public investment became casualties of the crisis mode which has preoccupied the GB Government for the last several years.

3) A sharp decline in the capacity of the PIM system in GB: With no medium-term plan or strategy available to define the sectoral and sub-sectoral priorities of the government, the project identification process became largely ad-hoc, with identified projects reflecting more the priorities of political leadership than those established through a well thought out plan. The void left by abandonment of the planning process is largely filled by the politicians, where a large number of projects are identified by politicians, or by the line-departments on directives of the politicians.
Ironically, the Planning Commission manual, provides ample guidance for identification, appraisal, and implementation of various programs / projects but of no use in GB.

Project Preparation and Appraisal: In the beginning, the quality of project preparation and appraisal was quite satisfactory. However, over time, these functions weakened, mainly due to following reasons:

  • With mounting fiscal difficulties, the line departments faced an increasing
    squeeze on their operational (recurrent) budget. Inclusion of a project into
    the ADP therefore became a mode of getting additional fiscal resources
    for the line departments, from which it can finance some of operational
    needs left unmet by inadequate recurrent budget. There was therefore a
    big enough incentive for the line departments to get as many as possible
    projects into the ADP as soon as possible. This forced them to cut
    corners on project preparation and pull all strings and levers to get project
    approved.  {Roughly, only 3 percent of development expenditure goes to create or acquire physical assets, whereas 31 percent is spent on operation expenditure}.
  • Political intervention in the development process increased adversely
    affecting the quality of project preparation and the moral of
    development-related staff in the departments and P&DD. There never has been any tradition in GB of undertaking ex ante or ex-post independent reviews of the preparation and appraisal process even for important projects.
  • Games” in the project preparations and approval processes: Limited capacity of the P&DD to properly appraise projects has given rise to some “gaming” behavior within the line departments to get whatever they want from the project approving authorities by deliberately include unwanted expenditure items (e.g. a large number of vehicles) in the project design just to distract the P&DD’s appraisal team to focus on these items, leading to a less than required focus on other areas and costs of the project. {The end result is leading to implementation delays, changes in scope and design of the project, cost overruns and consequently loss in benefits from the projects}.
  • Project Selection and Budgeting: Once a project is included in ADP in principle, administrative and political wheels start moving to get the project approved, irrespective of whether funds for the project are available or not, and it is technically viable or otherwise.  This leads to a number of projects making into the ADP with insufficient (at time a “token” allocation). This allocation is usually not even enough to pay for the
    salaries of the project staff. Moreover, this also leads to thin spreading
    of resources across other projects. As such, many projects get under-financed, which causes implementation delays, and a large throw-forward. A large throw-forward leaves little room for the incoming new government to implement its development agenda with full vigor. This has created a number of implementation issues undermining the efficiency of public investment.

Project Implementation: Project Implementation has been a weak area in GB. For ADP projects, shortcomings in project identification, preparation, appraisal, and approval processes make implementation very difficult. In addition, projects are usually managed by staff taken form regular cadres of government, with limited project management skills.

At times project management is assigned as an “additional responsibility” along with the person’s normal work. Moreover, procedures governing project financing, procurement and contracting are overly cumbersome. Hence, implementation delays and the consequent cost escalations are a norm rather than an exception for ADP.

Public Procurements: Weak procurement practices remain one of the major reasons for inefficiencies in public expenditure, including public investments as procurement is a highly technical subject. In addition, the volume of public procurements is huge, both in size and number. There are not enough skilled procurement specialists within the GB Government to manage all these procurements. Moreover, weak accountability and defective bidding and contract documents have given rise to corrupt contracting procedures and practices which directly undermine the efficiency of public expenditure in general, and particularly public investment.

Monitoring & Evaluation: Despite being a function mandated to both the line departments and the P&DD, project monitoring requires considerable improvements. To date, most of monitoring that is undertaken relates to inputs and compliance with procedures and processes, output and impact monitoring continues to be considered as outside the purview and mandate.  

Project Completion and Service Delivery: Although procedures for completing a project and soliciting operational resources are well laid out, yet they are hardly ever followed. Project completion report (PC-IV) is filed only in cases where the project requires recurrent expenditure allocation to be operational. Following are the reasons for inadequate allocation of operational budget to a newly completed project:

i) Weak estimates of operational resources: While preparing the PC-I, the line
departments deliberately understate the recurrent expenditure implications of
the project. This is done to improve the chances of getting the project
approved and included in the development budget. The finance authority
takes these estimates very seriously when making operational allocation after
completion of the project.

ii)  Implementation delays not only lead to escalation in project cost, but also in recurrent expenditure required to make the project operational.

iii)  Inadequacy of R&M allocations lead to deterioration in quality of service
delivered by the projects, reducing value for money under projects.

Missing Links in Functioning of Planning & Development Department: P&DD GB has thus become a project approval body where most of the projects are not identified based on technical considerations or as part of a shared approach to maximizing growth and welfare. These developments adversely impacted the value for money under development.
At all stages of the project, P&DD is supposed to keep track of performance. However, this tracking is now not happening to maximize project performance. At the project initiation, the PC1 form requires a full cost-benefit and economic analysis of the project to be presented to the approving bodies, after scrutiny by the sections.
When the project is complete the sponsoring agency must send a completion report, the PC4. Seldom is this report completed and hence there is little evaluation of the work done and its proper costing. After 5 years of the completion of the project, an evaluation report, PC5, reports on the performance of the project comparing it to the stated expectations set out in the PC1. Once again, these reports are seldom if ever completed. Altogether, role of P&DD is to approve projects and maintaining expenditure management afterwards. 

Too Many Projects, Too Little Return
The technical details of policy and projects such as basis of evidence, cost-benefit,
rates of return and rigorous feasibility or sensitivity analysis have gradually been
withdrawn from senior policymaking forums.  Looking strictly at the project
development and management system, several weaknesses have crept into the system, lowering their impact and rate of return.

These are:

1) Projects are approved without due diligence. Feasibilities, cost-benefit analysis, spatial determination, and several other details are often subject to political or other considerations. Approvals are pushed through with executive fiat.

2) Projects frequently have large cost overruns. Using a selection of ADP projects overruns are frequent and quite large. This is a combination of poor project management, infrequent delays leading to cost escalation as well as poor initial preparation.

3) Excessive focus on brick and mortar. The bulk of the investment is in hard infrastructure such and link roads are the biggest components. Even in the social sectors and other sectors, departments are interested in brick and mortar and even the approval process favors that.

(To be continued by highlighting proposals for improvement)

Mr. Sajjad Hyder joined P&DD, as Research Officer (BS-17), in 1993 and worked in all the sectors of economy, undertaking research studies and region’s policy development initiatives for socioeconomic development. Main research studies include: Northern Areas Strategy for Sustainable Development, in collaboration with IUC Pakistan, Norther Ares Report on Participatory Poverty Assessment in collaboration with planning commission Pakistan, and Gilgit Baltistan Economic Report {Broadening the Transformation}, a joint venture with ADB and world bank. His contribution in major project interventions include Pakistan Social Action Program, under which significant impact was seen in primary education, primary health care and rural water supply and sanitation in this region.  Altogether, Mr. Sajjad Hyder, as young officer {that time}, had acted a leading role in SAP interventions as a catalyst.  

In the years ahead, Mr. Sajjad Hyder, was elevated to the positions of Assistant Chief (BS-18), Deputy Chief (BS -19), and Chief Economist (BS-20), having commendable contribution (s) in the socioeconomic development of Gilgit=Baltistan.

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Harmony in Gilgit-Baltistan

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The strategically important Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) is dominating the news not because of its scenic beauty but because of sectarian tension. Unrest and unknown fear have been prevailing across the region for a couple of weeks due to inflammatory statements from both sides. It is believed that Islam came to the Gilgit region in the 12th century through Sufi saints. One Sufi saint, Shah Burya Wali, came to Nagar from Kashmir and preached Islam in the surrounding areas. In the case of Baltistan, the credit goes to Syed Ali Hamdani, who came to Baltistan in 1379 AD, followed by Syed Muhammad Noor Baksh. It was Mir Shamsuddin Iraqi who spread his beliefs in Khaplu, creating the ‘Noor Bakshi’ sect. In the cases of Chilas, Darel, and Tangier, Islam came from Dir, Kaghan, and Kohistan.

The region remained under the influence of Syeds, Pashtuns, and Kohistanis, who preached Islam here. According to historian Dr. Dani, ruler of Badakhshan Tajuddin, the Mughals invaded Gilgit twice and conquered areas that are now part of Ghizer, Gilgit, and Hunza. He preached Ismailism in the region, and even the ruler of Gilgit at that time accepted his influence. Remains of a tower built by Taj Mughal can be seen in Jutial. 

The region of Gilgit-Baltistan has a population of 15 lacs, divided into two regions, Gilgit and Baltistan comprising ten districts. The Sunnis and Shias share the Islam’s funda­mental principles based on the Tauheed, The Holy Prophet (PBUH), and the Quran. Until the 1970s, both communities lived in complete harmony. In 1972, major administrative changes were made in the region which included abolishing the agency system, abolishing states of Hunza and Nagar, the FCR and the state subject rule. 

Historically, people respected each other’s beliefs and even participated in each other’s religious activities. The people also connected with each other through inter marriages. To­day one can find several families in the Gilgit region having family members belonging to different sects. Historically, ethnic and tribal loyalties were more important than sectar­ian identities. All the sects in the region fought for the liber­ation of Gilgit-Baltistan together. The Sunni-Shia long stand­ing peace was shattered in 1983, 1988 and 2005. Resultantly, both Shias and Sunnis signed a peace agreement achieved through the efforts of a grand Jigra facilitated by the Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC). Unfortunately, the violence which was sporadic after 1988 became regular after 2005. 

During the recent years, positive developments were ob­served particularly in the Gilgit region. Leading Shia ulema attended the Tableekh Ijtimah in Chilas and leading ulema under Agha Rahat-ul-Hussaini attended the Tableekhi Ijti­ma in Gilgit. Similarly, the Sunnis arranged Sabeel during Ashura processions. These noble gestures were augmented by Qazi Nisar Ahmed’s statement that he is determined to maintain peace in the region along with Shia brothers. 

These were some positive gestures for the promotion of peaceful coexistence and sectarian harmony. The people of Gil­git-Baltistan must understand that our enemies will take ad­vantage of ongoing tension and the emotionally charged atmo­sphere. A number of efforts have been launched since the 1988 tragedy involving the ulema and members of civil society from all the communities. The hostile agencies can exploit the sectar­ian fault-lines as any odd incident can trigger sectarian unrest.

Therefore, considering the region’s troubled history, the sit­uation has the potential to deteriorate. Unfortunately, sectar­ian violence is often triggered by random events such as in­flammatory speeches and by use of social media. Dialogue between the both groups is a necessity to remove widespread misunderstandings. Internal and external threats to the peace to the region could be thwarted through harmony. The time has come that all the stakeholders in the region need to ad­dress the issue in a holistic manner to find a lasting solution. 

The Gilgit-Baltistan government should establish its writ by taking strict action against those who disturb peace. The message to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan is to work together for peace and prosperity in the region. Sectarian harmony is the need of the hour and it should be maintained.

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