Gilgit-Baltistan deserves a better deal

Jaibans Singh on how the Shia population has no one to speak up for it except its diaspora

DESPITE THE hype that surrounds the relationship between India and Pakistan, we somehow tend to ignore the core issues. For instance, the Indian leadership and bureaucracy do not seem to be aware or concerned about the fact that, after more than six decades of independence, there are a million-plus citizens of India who are languishing under foreign occupation, being suppressed, humiliated and exploited by mercenary forces for economic gains. This statement may come across as ludicrous to all those who are unaware about the state of affairs in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Jammu and Kashmir.

On 7 April, Tehrik Insaaf Chairman Imran Khan held the Pakistani government responsible for killing over 200 Shias in Gilgit-Baltistan. The next day, President Asif Ali Zardari came to India. This was not the first time in recent days that incidents of sectarian violence had taken place against the Shias; on 28 February and then on 3 April, terrorists attacked buses loaded with people from Gilgit-Baltistan and slaughtered more than 100 Shias. This daylight murder took place on the Karakoram Highway (KKH), which is dotted with police and military checkposts. Eyewitnesses claim that police provided weapons to the assailants, who numbered thousands. Following the Shia massacre, an indefinite curfew was imposed in Gilgit-Baltistan, causing food and medicine shortages. Surely, the Indian government was aware of these developments, yet, it chose to remain mute on the subject.

Post-independence, having received this bonanza due to the faulty ideology of Indian leaders of the day, Pakistan set about misusing it as a tool to further its political, economic and strategic objectives; the covetous Punjabis of Pakistan realised the immense economic potential of the region and let loose massive exploitation. Governments in Pakistan changed but the policy towards the region remained unchanged. In the last 64 years, no less than 11 political systems have experimented upon these hapless people.

Recently, the Pakistan government through the enactment of the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self Governance) Order 2009 of 29 August 2011 designated the region as an integral province of Pakistan. Accordingly, the Governor of the region will head a 12-member council with 50 percent members from the Assembly and the remaining 50 percent appointed by the Governor himself. This caveat, by itself, reduces the position of the Chief Minister to that of a dummy. This devolution, a result of protracted political agitation, clearly falls short of the justified aspirations of the people.

The plight of the people is miserable, to say the least. The region, which is supplying electricity to both Pakistan and China, has 14-16 hours outage on a regular basis. The area is rich in minerals, yet, the locals are banned from mining since the rights are with the Chinese. More than three lakh ethnic educated people are jobless; there is not a single local judge in the entire province; the few local government employees do not get salaries for months on end. No compensation is paid for losses during natural calamities; infrastructure damaged due to natural calamities is not repaired for years; dilapidated poultry farms are being used as schools, the list can go on and on.

The whole charade of the government of Pakistan stands exposed, but India is still fighting shy of extending at least moral support to the deprived and subjugated people. Their only hope lies with their diaspora, who are voicing their concerns across the world. On 14 April, hundreds of Shias in the US protested the killings gathered in front of the Pakistan embassy.

MALIKA BALTISTANI, the chairperson of Gilgit-Baltistan National Alliance, condemned the Pakistani government for patronising terrorists. She lamented that even though Gilgit-Baltistan provides water, minerals and a safe route for Pakistan to China, yet the native Shias are treated like captives. Imtiaz Hussain, President of Gilgit-Baltistan National Congress, stated that the United Nations universal declaration on human rights guarantees freedom of religious practice and expression as a birthright. However, the natives of Pakistancontrolled Gilgit-Baltistan have failed to attain their basic rights in the last six decades. He added that several resolutions by the UN Security Council and UN Commission on India and Pakistan (UNCIP) to guarantee genuine autonomy to the region have been ignored.

The Indian leadership can take a stand on the legal premise that Gilgit-Baltistan is our territory and the people are our citizens. We should not forget the vacant seats in Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and Parliament for the region under Pakistan control.

The opinions expressed here are the author’s own

Courtesy: Tehelka


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