A Wake-up Call For Gilgit-Baltistan

Recently Pakistan’s opposition parties thwarted an attempt by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan government to hold a consultative meeting to discuss a constitutional package for Gilgit Baltistan (GB) by boycotting the session called by the Parliamentary Standing Committee for National Security.

This defeat of the Imran Khan-led government comes at a time when a general election in GB is expected by the end on November 2020.

In a desperate attempt to guarantee a victory in the forthcoming elections, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government is leaving no stone unturned.

From hypocritical and rhetorical claims that GB is set to become the fifth province of Pakistan, to demagogic references to Islamic bondage between the Occupier (Sunni-dominated Pakistan) and the oppressed (Shia-dominated GB), and from naming post-election development packages to a sudden rush to the occupied region of Karakorum by top federal ministers to garner support for the ruling party in Pakistan, the whole election campaign has become a farce.

Imran Khan cannot even get respectable candidates for his party in GB. Many who were once thought to become PTI candidates have now decided to contest elections as independents.

Full-scale manipulation of voters list, postponing the date of the election to November to let winter set in and snowfall block the roads that lead to far-flung polling stations causing low voter turn out, are only a few of the tricks up the sleeve of the Pakistani establishment to influence the results of the elections.

Not only that poor performance in the election in GB will harm the popularity of PTI during the general election in Pakistani-occupied Kashmir due next year but it will also undermine the Pakistan Army’s control of the region.

Gilgit-Baltistan has been part of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir since 1877. During the Pakistan invasion of the state of Jammu Kashmir in October 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India, therefore, allowing Indian troops to land at Srinagar airport on October 27, 1947.

It did not take long for the Indian forces to push the Pakistani army and tribal invaders back. As Pakistan’s defeat became imminent, a British mercenary by the name of Major William Brown was stationed in the Gilgit agency. He was ordered by the British to stage a coup against the Governor of Gilgit Agency Brigadier Ghansara Singh.

At the time the officers of the Gilgit Scouts, a paramilitary force to scout the region, was under the command of British officers. They staged a coup and held individual meetings with the chieftains of the vassal states of the Gilgit Agency and gave them a choice of supporting the change in the political status of the Gilgit Agency or face retribution.

On October 30, 1947, just three days after the Indian troops landed in Srinagar, Major William Brown made his move and took over the Agency. On November 2 that year, he pulled down the flag of the state of Jammu Kashmir and raised the flag of Pakistan at the Gilgit Residency.

Had former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru not been to the United Nations and negotiated a cease-fire, Gilgit Baltistan would have been freed along with parts of west Jammu that were occupied by Pakistan army. The Indian troops were well on their way to liberate Skardu when they were stopped in their tracks. Indian troops retreated to Kargil and Leh.

Pakistan has since tried to swallow GB but in vain. In May 2007, a report submitted to the EU parliamentary Committee on Kashmir, known as the Emma Nicholson Report, described the human rights situation in GB and PoJK and proved that there were widespread abuse of human rights in both occupied regions.

In her report, she mentioned that it was the Pakistan Ministry of Kashmir Affairs that dealt with political, economic and financial issues of the occupied territories.

The Minister of Kashmir Affairs, she noted, was a Pakistani, so were the Inspector General of Police, the Accountant General and the Finance Secretary.

She also highlighted the fact the according to the interim constitution of Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir (also known as Act 74), no political party was allowed to operate unless they pledged their loyalty to the idea of accession to Pakistan.

Today, there are several dozen political prisoners in GB serving sentences up to 90 years. The colonial Schedule Four law bars any form of freedom of speech. The GB is crucial to the Belt and Road initiative of China.

The route that would take supplies from China to the Mediterranean and the continent of Europe has to pass through the occupied territory of GB before it reaches the Port of Gwadar in Baluchistan.

Hence, it is under the immense pressure of expansionist China that Pakistan is attempting to nip GB. Pakistan owes billions of dollars to China that she has borrowed to help keep its dwindling economy afloat.

China is investing over USD 60 billion just on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The irony is that all projects of CPEC that are being constructed in Pakistan are done by Chinese loans.

Hence it’s a double-edged trap for Pakistan. It’s a debt-trap. This debt-trap is going to prove like a death trap for Pakistan in years to come since Pakistan is unable to generate a surplus economy.

In this scenario occupied territories have become the first to bear the brunt of the economic causality Pakistan is suffering.

River Indus in GB and Rivers Jhelum and Neelum in PoJK has been diverted for the construction of Hydropower projects in Diamer, Kohala and other places.

This is causing severe ecological disaster in the region. Water shortages in GB and PoJK have forced hundreds of settled people to migrate. Green pastures for animal grazing have dried up and wildlife species are seriously been endangered.

It is a wakeup call for India that its people and lands that were occupied in 1947 are now being systematically sent to the death camp of history by a rouge fascist state of Pakistan.

The need to act to save our people and recapture our lands has never been so pressing.

The author is a human rights activist from Mirpur in PoK. He currently lives in exile in the UK. (ANI)

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