1988 Gilgit Massacre
Part of Zia-ul-Haq's Islamization of Pakistan
Pakistan - Gilgit-Baltistan - Gilgit.svg
Location of the Gilgit District in Gilgit-Baltistan
LocationGilgit District, Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan
Coordinates35°48′09″N 74°59′00″E / 35.8026°N 74.9832°E / 35.8026; 74.9832
Date16–18 May 1988[1][2]
Pakistan Standard Time (UTC+5:00)
TargetShia Muslims
Attack type
Immolation, mass shooting, lynching, arson, mass rape
PerpetratorsMuhammad Zia-ul-Haq,
General Mirza Aslam Beg,[4]
Brigadier Pervez Musharraf,[4][5]
Osama bin Laden,[4]
Special Services Group of the Pakistan Army[5]
MotiveAnti-Shi'ism, Sunni supremacism

The 1988 Gilgit massacre refers to the state-sponsored mass killing of Shia civilians in the Gilgit District of Pakistan who revolted against military dictator Zia-ul-Haq's Sunni Islamist regime, responsible for vehement persecution of religious minorities as part of its Islamization program.[4][5][6]

The massacre was preceded by anti-Shia riots in early May 1988, which were caused by a dispute over the sighting of the moon for Eid al-Fitr after Ramadan between Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims. Local Sunnis, who were still fasting for Ramadan, had attacked the local Shias who had announced their commencement of Eid celebrations in Gilgit City, leading to violent clashes between the two sects.[7][8][9] In response to the riots and revolt against Zia-ul-Haq's regime, the Pakistan Army led an armed group of local Sunni tribals from Chilas, accompanied by Osama bin Laden-led Sunni militants from Afghanistan as well as Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province into Gilgit City and adjoining areas in order to suppress the revolt. It is estimated that anywhere between 150 and 900 Shia Muslims were killed in the resulting massacre and violence, in which entire villages were also burnt down. The massacre also saw the mass rape of hundreds of Shia Muslim women by Sunni tribesmen.[7][10][6]


Shia Muslims living in the Pakistani-administered territory of Gilgit-Baltistan have allegedly faced discrimination by the Pakistani government since its takeover of the region following the First Kashmir War between India and Pakistan in 1947–1948. The Shias claimed that under Pakistani administration, Sunni Muslims enjoyed inherent advantages in all business matters, were unilaterally awarded official positions and treated preferentially in legal cases. On 5 July 1977, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq led a coup d'état in Pakistan,[11] establishing a military dictatorship, and committed himself throughout his tenure to converting Pakistan into a heavily conservative Islamic state and enforcing sharia law.[12] Zia's state-sponsored Islamization increased the sectarian divisions between Sunni and Shia Muslims, and between Sunni Deobandis and Barelvis.[13] The application of Sunni-centric laws throughout the country was divisive.[14] Attacks on Shias (as well as other religious minorities) increased exponentially under the dictatorship of Zia-ul-Haq. The country's first major Shia–Sunni riots erupted in 1983 in Karachi, Sindh during the Islamic holy month of Muharram (which is especially significant for the Shia), and left at least 60 people dead.[15] Further Muharram disturbances and riots followed over the course of another three years, spreading to Lahore and the province of Balochistan—leaving hundreds more dead. In July 1986, Sunnis and Shias clashed in the northwest town of Parachinar, near the Afghanistan–Pakistan border; many of them were equipped with locally-made automatic rifles. It is estimated that over 200 people died in this event of sectarian violence.[14]


The Karakoram Highway was used to transport the assailants from Chilas and Indus Kohistan to Gilgit
The Karakoram Highway was used to transport the assailants from Chilas and Indus Kohistan to Gilgit

The first major anti-Shia riots in Gilgit District broke out in May 1988, stemming from a Shia–Sunni dispute over the sighting of the moon, which marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid al-Fitr. When Shia Muslims in Gilgit City commenced their festivities for Eid, a group of local Sunni Muslims—who were still fasting for Ramadan as their religious leaders had not yet declared the sighting of the moon—attacked them, sparking a series of violent clashes between Gilgiti Sunnis and Shias. Following a period of calm for about four days, the Zia-ul-Haq military regime reportedly sent a contingent of militants from the North-West Frontier Province and Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, accompanied by additional militants from neighbouring Afghanistan and local Sunni tribesmen from Chilas to "teach (the Shias) a lesson", which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people.[7][5]

Shia Muslims in Gilgit District were attacked and killed by a thousands-strong force of Sunni jihadists, led by Osama bin Laden and backed by the Pakistani military. Shia women living in Gilgit District were also mass-raped by local Sunni tribesmen as well as the bin Laden-led militants.[16][17]

The Herald, the former monthly magazine publishing of the Dawn Media Group in Karachi, wrote in its April 1990 issue:

In May 1988, low-intensity political rivalry and sectarian tension ignited into full-scale carnage as thousands of armed tribesmen from outside Gilgit district invaded Gilgit along the Karakoram Highway. Nobody stopped them. They destroyed crops and houses, lynched and burnt people to death in the villages around Gilgit town. The number of dead and injured was in the hundreds. But numbers alone tell nothing of the savagery of the invading hordes and the chilling impact it has left on these peaceful valleys.[6]


The exact casualties figure of the 1988 Gilgit massacre has been disputed. Some sources state that 150 to 400 people were killed while hundreds of others were injured,[18] while other unofficial reports state that around 700 Shias were killed.[3][19]

See also



  1. ^ Ispahani, Mahnaz (2019). Roads and Rivals: The Political Uses of Access in the Borderlands of Asia. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-1-5017-4591-1.
  2. ^ Sehri, Inam (2012). Judges and Generals of Pakistan Volume - I. Grosvenor House Publishing. ISBN 978-1-78148-043-4.
  3. ^ a b Levy & Scott-Clark, Deception (2010), Chapter 13: "Bin Laden’s militia mounted a savage pogrom, killing more than 300, and when the fighting had subsided Musharraf opened an office for SSP extremists in Gilgit, helping spread their influence across Pakistan.[8: Some accounts place the deaths at higher than 700. The claim made that Musharraf orchestrated the SSP move to Gilgit was by two of his contemporaries who spoke to the authors in the spring of 2006. The same claim was made in an author interview with Hamid Gul in the same month. B. Raman also made the claim in a paper for the South Asian Analyst Group.]"
  4. ^ a b c d e Levy & Scott-Clark, Deception (2010), Chapter 13: "Undaunted, Musharraf had in 1988 been called on by General Beg to put down a Shia riot in Gilgit, in the north of Pakistan. Rather than get the Pakistan army bloodied, he inducted a tribal band of Pashtun and Sunni irregulars, many from the SSP [Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan] which had recently put out a contract on Bhutto, led by the mercenary Osama bin Laden (who had been hired by Hamid Gul to do the same four years earlier)."
  5. ^ a b c d Bansal, In Pursuit of Forced Assimilation (2007), pp. 61–62: 'This was perceived by Pakistani establishment to be an Iranian sponsored 'Shia Revolt'. Zia put a Special Service Group (SSG) group commanded by then Brigadier Pervez Musharraf to suppress the revolt and Musharraf responded by transporting "a large number of Wahabi Pakhtoon tribesmen from the NWFP and Afghanistan" to Gilgit "to teach the Shias a lesson. These tribesmen massacred hundreds of Shias"'
  6. ^ a b c Raman, B (26 February 2003). "The Karachi Attack: The Kashmir Link". Rediiff News. Retrieved 31 December 2016. A revolt by the Shias of Gilgit was ruthlessly suppressed by the Zia-ul Haq regime in 1988, killing hundreds of Shias. An armed group of tribals from Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier Province, led by Osama bin Laden, was inducted by the Pakistan Army into Gilgit and adjoining areas to suppress the revolt.
    Raman, B (7 October 2003). "The Shia Anger". Outlook. Retrieved 31 December 2016. Because they have not forgotten what happened in 1988. Faced with a revolt by the Shias of the Northern Areas (Gilgit and Baltistan) of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), under occupation by the Pakistan Army, for a separate Shia State called the Karakoram State, the Pakistan Army transported Osama bin Laden's tribal irregulars into Gilgit and let them loose on the Shias. They went around massacring hundreds of Shias – innocent men, women, and children.
    "The AQ Khan Proliferation Highway - III". Outlook India. Retrieved 29 November 2020.
    "The Forgotten J&K". Outlook India. Retrieved 29 November 2020.
  7. ^ a b c Shamil, Taimur (12 October 2016). "This Muharram, Gilgit gives peace a chance". Herald.
  8. ^ "How Pakistan altered demography of occupied Gilgit-Baltistan". MSN.
  9. ^ "The sectarian spectre in Gilgit-Baltistan: Part III". The News International. Retrieved 29 November 2020.
  10. ^ Daniel Silander; Don Wallace; John Janzekovic (2016). International Organizations and The Rise of ISIL: Global Responses to Human Security Threats. Routledge. p. 37. ISBN 9781315536088.
  11. ^ Grote, Rainer (2012). Constitutionalism in Islamic Countries: Between Upheaval and Continuity. Oxford University Press. p. 196. ISBN 9780199910168.
  12. ^ Kepel, Gilles (2002). Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (2006 ed.). I.B.Tauris. pp. 100–101. ISBN 9781845112578. Retrieved 5 December 2014.
  13. ^ Talbot, Ian (1998). Pakistan, a Modern History. NY: St.Martin's Press. p. 251. ISBN 9780312216061. The state sponsored process of Islamisation dramatically increased sectarian divisions not only between Sunni and Shia over the issue of the 1979 Zakat Ordinance, but also between Deobandis and Barelvis.
  14. ^ a b Broder, Jonathan (10 November 1987). "Sectarian Strife Threatens Pakistan's Fragile Society". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 31 December 2016.
  15. ^ Broder, Jonathan (9 November 1987). "Sectarian Strife Threatens Pakistan's Fragile Society". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 23 February 2022.
  16. ^ International Organizations and The Rise of ISIL: Global Responses to Human Security Threats. Routledge. 2016. pp. 37–38. ISBN 9781315536088. Several hundred Shiite civilians in Gilgit, Pakistan, were massacred in 1988 by Osama Bin Laden and his Taliban fighters (Raman, 2004).
  17. ^ Murphy, Eamon (2013). The Making of Terrorism in Pakistan: Historical and Social Roots of Extremism. Routledge. p. 134. ISBN 9780415565264. Shias in the district of Gilgit were assaulted, killed and raped by an invading Sunni Lashkar-armed militia-comprising thousands of jihadis from the Northwest Frontier Province.
  18. ^ Ambreen Agha, "Gilgit-Baltistan: Murder most Foul", South Asia Intelligence Review, via New Age Islam, 5 March 2012; "Gilgit-Baltistan: Murder most Foul". Urdu Teehzeeb. 6 March 2012. Archived from the original on 5 June 2014.((cite web)): CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  19. ^ Bansal, Alok (2008), "Gilgit–Baltistan: The Roots of Political Alienation", Strategic Analysis, 32 (1): 81–101, doi:10.1080/09700160801886355, S2CID 144005945: "These tribesmen destroyed property and killed hundreds in the villages in and around Gilgit. According to one estimate, more than 700 people were killed and injured and the brutality of these marauding hordes left an indelible mark in this hitherto peaceful region."