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Misery of Gilgit-Baltistan: The part of Jammu & Kashmir occupied by Pakistan

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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.

Historical background

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.

Maharaja Hari Singh
Maharaja Hari Singh

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.

Chinese intrusion

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.

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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.

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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.

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India China’s Fight Over the Doklam Plateau Explained

Doklam or Donglang, is a disputed area between China and Bhutan located near their tri-junction with India

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picture from- indiaopines.com

By Ruchika Verma

  • India and China have an old history of disputes
  • This time, the dispute is regarding the Dokplam Plateau
  • The area is of strategic importance for both the nations

Disputes between India and China are not at all uncommon. The rivalry between the two nations is famous. There have been several disputes between the two on the India-China border in past, and there seems to be no stopping for these disputes in the present or future, for that matter.

India and China have a n old history of repeated disputes. zeenews.india.com
India and China have an old history of repeated disputes. zeenews.india.com

In June 2017, the world witnessed yet another dispute arising between India and China. This time the dispute was about China building a road extending to Doklam Plateau, which both nations have been fighting over for years now.

Also Read: China is likely to get involved if India disrupts $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

History of the dispute 

Doklam or Donglang (in Chinese), is a disputed area between China and Bhutan located near their tri-junction with India. India doesn’t directly claim the area but supports Bhutan’s claims on it.

India fits into the picture, as this plateau is an important area for India. Not only is Bhutan one of the biggest allies of India; China gaining access over the Doklam Plateau will also endanger India’s borders, making them vulnerable to attacks.

Dopkam plateau is an important area near India, China and Bhutan's borders.
Dopkam plateau is an important area near India, China and Bhutan’s borders.

Apart from the hostile history of the two nations, the Doklam Plateau is also important for India to maintain its control over a land corridor that connects to its remote northeastern States. China building a road through Doklam surely threatens that control.

A complete timeline of what happened in the recent Doklam Standoff 

On 16 June 2017, Chinese troops with construction vehicles and excavators began extending an existing road southward on the Doklam plateau, near India’s border. It was Bhutan which raised the alarm for India.

On 18 June 2017, India responded by sending around 270 Indian troops, with weapons and two bulldozers to evict the Chinese troops from Doklam.

On 29 June 2017, Bhutan protested against the construction of a road in the disputed territory.  According to the Bhutanese government, China attempted to extend a road in an area which is shared both Bhutan and India, along with China.

Between 30 June 2017 and 5 July 2017, China released multiple statements justifying their claim over the Doklam plateau. They cited reasons as to why the Doklam standoff wasn’t really needed. And how China has not intruded into India’s territory to incite the standoff.

On 19th July 2017, China asked India again to withdraw its troops from the Doklam. On 24th July 2017,  Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in his statement, asked India to withdraw and behave themselves to maintain peace.

India and China seem to never agree when it comes to their borders. BBC
India and China seem to never agree when it comes to their borders. BBC

Also Read: Why India Must Counter China’s High-Altitude Land Grab?

What followed till 16th August 2017 was China constantly alleging India of trying to create trouble. They accused India of trying to disturb the peace and not withdrawing the troops, even after repeated reminders. They also accused India of bullying.

India, however, kept quiet during the whole fiasco, only releasing a statement regarding their stand and position at the Doklam standoff.

On 28 August 2017, India and China finally announced that they had agreed to pull their troops back from the Doklam standoff. The withdrawal was completed on that very day.

On 7 September 2017, many media reports claimed that both nation’s troops have not left the site completely. They were still patrolling the area, simply having moved 150 meters away from their previous position.

On 9 October 2017, China announced that it is ready to maintain peace with India at the frontiers. India reacted in affirmative, the peace was established when Indian Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman’s visited Nathu La.

The issue between the two nations may rise again. Pixabay
The issue between the two nations may rise again. Pixabay

The Doklam issue, for now, is resolved. However, given the history of disputes between India and China, it won’t be a surprise if the issue resurfaces again in near future.