By Ishan Kukreti
They say, home is where the heart is.
However, for the people living in Gilgit-Baltistan region their home is being intruded by the Chinese and Pakistanis while their heart is filled with terror by the activities of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Taiba and the likes.
Gilgit-Baltistan is the northern part of Pakistan occupied Kashmir famously called ‘Northern Areas’ and is an ‘administrative unit’ of Pakistan.
It is ironic that Pakistan, whose sole reason for enmity with India boils down to the question of Kashmir, has reduced the part of it which it has, it to a breeding ground for terrorism, genocide, demographic alternations and political gagging.
Gilgit-Baltistan was part of the kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh before independence. While the Maharaja was pondering over his options to join India or Pakistan, the Gilgit scouts rebelled and overthrew Ghansara Singh, the Governor administering the region on behalf of the Maharaja, on November 1, 1947.
The region remained a full-fledged independent nation for two weeks before it decided to merge into Pakistan on November 16, 1947.
However, the territory remained disputed as it was under the Dogra ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, who had signed an Instrument of Accession with India on October 26, 1947.
The region is still disputed, though Pakistan continues to administer it as an ‘autonomous entity’ through Ministry of Kashmir Affairs & Gilgit Baltistan. However the truth is that Pakistan treats the region as its breeding ground for terror.
While the dispute over Gilgit-Baltistan was ongoing, a new player entered the scene with the help of Pakistan. Without consulting the locals and completely disregarding international laws, Pakistan gave over 2,600 square miles of Gilgit-Baltistan to China in 1963.
Trans-Karakoram Tract, as the region is called, has major strategic importance for China. It is the only available overland route for China to Gwadar Port in Baluchistan which has been leased to the Chinese government by Pakistan.
China has also undertaken major construction activity in the region, without any legal authority for the same. It is building a 7000 megawatt power hydroelectricity plant in Bunji, against the will of the local inhabitants who claim the region is not safe for such a massive project.
Senge Hasnan Sering is the Gilgit-Baltistan born President of Institute for Gilgit Baltistan Studies, a Washington based think tank for the region and an expert on the region. He said in an interview, ‘The construction of mega projects in a high altitude cold desert like GB (Gilgit-Baltistan) is leading to increase in humidity level at an alarming rate, causing cloudbursts and flashfloods. Pakistan should stop the mega projects in the Himalayas and Karakoram ranges. Karakoram is the youngest mountain range in the world and cannot take all that pressure from unwarranted human intervention.’
Right now, the region is infiltrated by parties which have no legal claim over it. The local inhabitants have no say in the matter, while the economic perks of the region are being shared between China and Pakistan. The absurdity of the situation is beyond comprehension.
Self-rule for an autonomous state
Although, the region has been portrayed to be autonomous, Gilgit-Baltistan is directly administrated by Pakistan’s FANA(Federal Administrated Northern Areas).
On 29 August 2009, the Gilgit Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, 2009, was passed by the Pakistani Cabinet which led to the creation of, an elected Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly and Gilgit-Baltistan Council.
However, the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly has been criticized by many as being an extension of Pakistani state in the region. The representation of the region in the Assembly can be gauged by the fact that it has just one member Nawaz Khan Naji, from a regional party.
The Assembly is split between members of Pakistan People’s Party, Pakistan Muslim League, Muttahida Qaumi Movement, and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam.
Socio-economic condition in Gilgit-Baltistan
To control the area better, Pakistan, under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto revoked the State Subject Certificate requirement in the region. This led to a major demographic alteration of the region.
Unfortunately, for the people, the immigrants not only led to the reduction in employment opportunities, but also led to major armed violence and targeted Shia killings as most of the settlers were of militant Taliban stock.
‘These settlement hit the people economically as they cropped up along the Islamabad-Skardu highway, the sole economic lifeline connecting this region to the outside world. Violence along this route continues to this day, making the economic use of this highway non viable for the people,’ says Rahul Jalali, one of the few experts on the region in India.
Gilgit-Baltistan and India
‘Ethnically and linguistically, the people of Baltistan are related to the Ladakhis while the people of Gilgit, Chitral and Kashmir are Dardic, who speak related languages.’ Senge Sering says.
He, like many who have some understanding of the issue, believe that resuming ties with India through opening of Skardu-Kargil road will have a positive impact on the socioeconomic condition of the region.
Rahul Jalali, believes that opening of the highway will provide a safe route for the people of the region to communicate with the world.
‘Opening of the Skardu-Kargil road will help both sides of the border. The economic activities, which the GB people now carry out with Islamabad through a highly dangerous highway, can be diverted to this side of the border,’ he says.
Resuming the road will also help in the region’s integration into India, which, after all is part of undivided Jammu & Kashmir and hence a territory of India as per the Instrument of Succession signed between the heads of India and the Kingdom of Jammu & Kashmir.
The combined injustice done to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan by Pakistan and China is an inhuman denial of their congenital rights and no amount of religious or geographic affinity can justify the horrible wrong that Pakistan has done to the region.