Brigadier Dr Vijay Sagar Dheman
Pakistan assumed full control of the territory in 1947. Maharaja Hari Singh of Jammu and Kashmir State or anyone from Union of India never even contested Pakistan’s claim. Pakistan made sure that the region is separated from the POJK and remains devoid of any civil liberties, human rights or even basic modern habitat. There was no local representation in administration or any courts unlike in the case of POJK. Many a time, the cases for rights and privileges for people of this region were contested in courts in Pakistan resulting the verdict in favour of the Gilgit-Baltistan. The Govt of Pakistan either could reverse the decision in higher court or offer some convincing argument to avoid implementation of the verdict. The basic problem is that the constitution of Pakistan does not consider this region as part of Pakistan even today.
PAKISTANI INDIFFERENCE & EXPLOITATION
In 1963, Pakistan unilaterally handed over approx 5000 Km of area of Shakasgam in Hunza to China. Mir of Hunza protested but to no avail. Thus till 1970, there were no rights and Gilgit-Baltistan continued to be under the tyranny of Pakistan Army. The system of governance was same as during British lease prior to 1947. In Apr 1949, this region got bifurcated by an agreement signed between Pakistan Minister of Kashmir Affairs and Mohammad Ibrahim, President of POJK along with Ghulam Abbas, President of Muslim Conference in POJK. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan challenge this agreement as it did not have any representation of Gilgit-Baltistan. Besides, this agreement also contradicts the UN Resolution 91 adopted on 30 Mar 1951 and UN Resolution 122 adopted on 24 Jan 1954. The age-old draconian law Frontier Crime Regulations (FCR) since British regime to crush the locals was in force. Northern Area Legislative Council (NALC) was formed but instead of electing the members, they used to be selected from Islamabad. This was only in advisory role with no powers of final say.
In 1990, there was an attempt to give some representation to the locals in administration and this area was renamed as ‘Northern Areas’. In 1974, Bhutto Govt abolished the state subject law, still in force since Maharaja’s times, and went in for massive Sunni settlements in the garb of traders, Mullahs and ex-servicemen. The influx of outsiders did not help the locals in any way and they started resenting their presence. Shia-Sunni riots became very common. Simultaneously, this region being in the vicinity of NWFP, lot of terror organisations (Sunni sect) started having their terror training camps. This region saw the worst Shia-Sunni riots in 1998 and 1992. In 1988, Brigadier Parvez Musharaf personally led the commandos and 1,000 terrorists from Khyber Pakhtoonwa to massacre the Shias in this region. On an instant, Osama Bin Laden, who had his hide-outs in this region, is believed to have led the Sunni terrorists to decimate the Shias. Needless to say that Shias retaliated with full force and survived.
As per a political activist Shakoor Khan, now in exile, “Gilgit-Baltistan had a population of two million. Now it has been reduced to approx 14 Lakh. There are no civic amenities like potable water and electricity. The land and the forests have been exploited by the Pakistani Generals and politicians and bureaucrats for their personal gains. The basic food items coming from Pakistan are of poor quality and are available to public at an exorbitant cost. Prominent activists like Col Hassan were jailed for 13 continuous years and his home was destroyed. His son Wajahat Aslam is on exile to UK.” Despite persecution from the Govt, a movement has been started for independence. Idea of Independent Balwaristan comprising of the areas of Dardistan, Baltistan, Astore and parts of Ladakh is gaining ground.
Today there are high levels of discrimination, brutality and victimisation of the residents of Gilgit-Baltistan. The gun culture whether against Pakistan or China is rampant. The soldiers of Northern Light Infantry of Pakistan Army (residents of Gilgit-Baltistan) feel slighted due to sectarian issues. No claim of dead-bodies of Northern Light Infantry soldiers by Pakistan during Kargil War irks them on continuous basis. People are also aghast with the announcement of construction of Daimer Basha dam. This dam though being in geographical region of Basha (Khyber Pakhtoonwa), yet it is called Diamer Basha dam. This has been done to avoid paying the royalty to the province. Pakistan has cleverly avoided the issue by calling it ‘Provisional Province of Pakistan’ and not ‘Province of Pakistan’ in the constitution. The electricity produced will go to Pakistan or China and large tracts of land in Gilgit-Baltistan will be submerged in water displacing 60,000 people in 30 villages. Compensations from Pakistan are hard to come by. Ever since the construction of the Karakoram HW started, China, has been looting all rich mineral like Uranium, Titanium, Gold and the forest resources to damage the biodiversity of the ecosystems in this region.
Pakistan has conducted the elections on 15th Nov 2020 in Gilgit-Baltistan but they are unlikely to bring any change in the lives of the residents. Pakistan has been forced by the rattled China to integrate this region in Constitution of Pakistan. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes through this region. If India, integrates it back into its territory, the CPEC would cease to exist. Pakistan has a dilemma on this. If Pakistan integrates this region as its fifth province, case of integrating whole of Jammu and Kashmir in Pakistan territory gets diluted in the proceedings in UNO. But being a subservient vassal state of China, does it have a choice?
(To be continued)
(The author is leading Defence and Strategic Expert, prolific writer, National TV News Commentator and Internationally Accredited Life Coach).