Hunza Revolt And Birth Of Free Will In Gilgit-Baltistan

The protest sit-in since Sunday, October 4, at Aliabad in Hunza district of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) in the northern Himalayan region, which has been under Pakistan’s illegal occupation since November 1, 1947, can prove to be a political game-changer.

Scores of protestors, who began the sit-in, braving the cold winter, were joined by at least 3,000 Hunza residents. They have two demands. Firstly, they want the release of at least 14 political prisoners languishing in GB prisons since 2011, and secondly, they are demanding that the 2011 inquiry report prepared by the Joint Investigating Team (JIT) convened by the government, which investigated the incident that led to the imprisonment of these political and human right activists, be made public.

It is believed that the inquiry report surfaced enough evidence that would help to acquit the accused.

In 2010 floods caused a massive landslide that blocked the path of River Hunza leading to the formation of an artificial lake at Attabad. This resulted in the submersion of at least 100 villages and hundreds of internally displaced people.

A campaign was initiated to help the displaced people of the Attabad Lake get compensation and land for resettlement. It led to a violent confrontation with the local administration resulting in the death of a father and a son during a protest rally upon which the police had opened fire.

In 2011 Baba Jan and 12 others were arrested and charged with sedition, murder, and causing public disorder and sentenced to 70 to 90 years imprisonment. Individual families and loved ones of those who were sentenced have since been pleading their innocence and demanding the release of the political prisoners.

On October 7, Hunza city observed a shutter-down strike in support of the sit-in while thousands paid solidarity visits to the protestors’ camp. These are developments that were not heard of in Pakistan occupied Gilgit-Baltistan. The fact of the matter is that the people of GB seem to have had enough.

They have witnessed their ace lands being grabbed by the Pakistan army, Chinese intrusion in the guise of CPEC, and building dams on the mighty Indus River that is causing the destruction of thousands of years of rock carving of archaeological importance as well as the drowning of 100s of villages and the anticipated destruction of the city of Chillas, successive puppet chief ministers blowing the trumpet of Islamic religious nationalism based on the two-nation theory of Jinnah propagating the fake ‘Qalam ka Rishta’ with Pakistan and most recently the delay caused by Imran Khan government in the GB general election to make it impossible for people from far-flung areas to cast their votes due to roadblocks caused by the snow in November.

On the other hand, in PoJK (Pakistan occupied Jammu-Kashmir) protests against Pakistani occupation, lack of power and electricity, roads and infrastructure plus the diversion of Rivers Jhelum and Neelum for building hydroelectric powerhouses have intensified.

On October 6, Jammu Kashmir Awami National Party and Jammu Kashmir National Students Federation were marching towards Kohala Bridge to start a sit-in against Pakistan’s attempts to incorporate GB as her fifth province when skirmishes took place almost all over PoJK between the marchers and the police.

Roadblocks using mud and stones were laid to discourage people from reaching Kohala Bridge by cars and busses. The leaders of the march were arrested, yet dodging the authorities in uniform; people have continued to walk on foot to reach Kohala Bridge. This demonstration of collective public determination has never been witnessed in GB or POJK. So what has changed?

August 5, 2019, has proved to be a turning point in the regional political, and historical paradigm of the subcontinent. With the abrogation of the Articles 370 and 35A from the Indian constitution, the so-called special Status of JK(Jammu and Kashmir) has ended and the former state has been incorporated in the Republic of India as Union Territory. This single act of the BJP government has had an immense psychological effect on the people of GB and PoJK.

The inability of Pakistan to muster up even trivial international support against the above-mentioned action of the BJP government and her subsequent failure to mobilize enough backing to call for a special session of the Organisation of Islamic Community (OIC) or the UNHRC to discuss the new development in JK has laid bare Pakistan’s ability to bring the division of the occupied territories to an end.

Hence, the people of GB and PoJK are now gradually waking up to the reality that unless they join the Indian Union their status as equal citizens under any arrangement made by the Pakistani establishment would further diminish their chances of reviving their cultural and political independence.

Since the decision to incorporate Dogri and Kashmiri as J&K’s official languages it has brought reassurance to the people of GB and PoJK that only by joining the Indian Union they would be able to save their culture, languages, and political and civil rights which is protected and guaranteed by the constitution of India.

They will be open to do business in the country and share the benefits of an emerging five-trillion-dollar economy. Their main concern about civil rights and infrastructure development would be addressed adequately. Schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, roads, bridges, railway, and airports will be built and GB and PoJK along with Ladakh and JK will become one of the most prosperous regions in northern India.

Since the abrogation of Articles, 370 and 35-A that led to the fast paced road development and access to electricity even in the remotest parts of J&K have startled the imagination of the people of GB and PoJK who spend most of their time without power and electricity.

The nexus between Pakistani ISI and the Chinese Communist Party has left Pakistan with less political and economic independence. CPEC and the subsequent deployment of Pakistani and Chinese troops in the GB and lately in PoJK with Skardu airport transforming into a Chinese military base and surface-to-air missile launch sites under construction in PoJK have raised suspicion regarding the actual motive of the CPEC projects under construction.

A challenge the military generals now face from opposition led by ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who opening criticised (September 20) the ISI and the military for interfering in civil matters is now developing into a commonly shared public narrative.

In the past individual desire to end the nightmare of Pakistani colonialism was brutally suppressed by the military establishment.

However, what we are witnessing today is that the people of all oppressed nations living under the occupation of Pakistan have begun to share a universal will to get rid of the yoke of slavery and free themselves of not only Pakistani but also expansionist China.

That universal will seems to be the driving force behind the Hunza sit-in and the protests in PoJK. The time for India to act as it did in 1971 to rescue the oppressed people of East Pakistan has never been as appropriate and compelling as now.

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

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