Friday, September 13, 2013

Gilgit – Baltistan experience: The true face of Pakistan
Brig. V Mahalingam  
The resolution passed by the Pakistan’s National Assembly on August 13, 2013 besides other things reiterated   that Pakistan "shall continue to extend diplomatic, political and moral support for the just and legitimate struggle of the Kashmiri people for the realization of their right to self-determination, as enshrined in the UN Security Council resolutions"[1] projecting a façade of concern and sympathy for the people of Kashmir. Is  Pakistan  really concerned about the people of  Kashmir ? Has it accorded even the basic minimum, ‘the fundamental rights’ to the people of J & K presently under its control leave alone their right to self – determination?  It is time  Pakistan ’s duplicity is exposed and the people of J & K who have been misguided and kept ignorant for much too long made aware of the reality.
Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK) consists of the so called Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit Baltistan (GB)[2], parts of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir  (J&K). The Instrument of Accession signed by the Maharaja of Kashmir in favour of  India  in October 1947 decrees it as a part of  India  as in the case of the other erstwhile princely states which had ceded to  India  or  Pakistan[3]. These areas have been under  Pakistan ’s control since 1947[4].
Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK) is legally and legitimately an integral part of  India . The total area of GB is approximately 72,496 sq km and it constitutes 86 % of the total area of the POK[5].  The population of this region comprises numerous ethnic groups and tribes and is believed to have grown by 63.1 per cent from 883,799 in 1998 to 1,441,523 in 2011 according to the preliminary results of the 2011 Census of Pakistan[6]. This area was referred to as Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA) till 2009[7].
Till 1947, GB was governed by the AJK administration. Fearing that this may come in the way of its plan to grab these territories,  Pakistan  separated the AJK and GB through the ‘Karachi Agreement’ signed on April 28, 1949. This agreement was signed between the President of AJK, a minister without portfolio from  Pakistan  and a representative from the Muslim Conference but without any representative from GB[8]. The status of this region was thus decided by  Pakistan  without even a semblance of the voice of the people of GB being heard.
Thereafter it was governed under the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) which also applied to tribal areas of  Pakistan . Under FCR, people had no right to appeal, to legal representation or to present reasoned evidence[9]
The deliberate stance of the Pakistan Government to ignore the people of GB made AJK Legislative Assembly pass a resolution reclaiming GB. On September14, 1994, the Supreme Court of Pakistan declared GB a part of J & K and not AJK[10]. In a subsequent judgment on 28 May 1999, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered the Pakistan Government to guarantee ‘fundamental rights’ to the people of GB within a period of six months[11].  Pakistan  might take a look at their own Supreme Court’s judgment on its record of granting fundamental rights to the people of  Kashmir presently under its control before demanding the rights of the people of J & K under Indian rule. The part of J & K under Indian rule has the status of a State of the Union of India and its people have their elected Legislative Council, council of ministers and are duly represented in Indian Parliament. The differences of approach between  India and  Pakistan  in relation to the areas of  Kashmir  under their respective control are open for the entire world to see.
The next smokescreen in GB was staged in 1970 by creating an Advisory Council with 14 elected members. This was subsequently converted into the Northern Areas Council in 1975. It remained without any legislative or executive powers and was presided over by the Administrator appointed by  Islamabad . In 1999, it was expanded and renamed the Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC). During the tenure of the first NALC from 1999 to 2004, it failed to legislate on any subject[12].
The area was ruled by the Northern Areas Executive Council (NAEC) presided by the Minister for Kashmir Affairs. The chief executive’s authority was vested in the office of the Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas (KANA) Division. There was no provision for a vote of no-confidence. The chief executive, who headed the NALC, was not elected, there was no accountability. The council had no provision for a leader of the opposition[13].
Having failed to respect the order or the six month time stipulation laid down by the Supreme Court of Pakistan for the grant of fundamental rights to the people of GB in 1999, the Pakistan Government woke up in 2009 to announce the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order, 2009. It provides for a local administration headed by a ‘Chief Minister’, to be elected by the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) consisting of 33 members. The council of ministers will consist of six ministers and two advisors[14]. An ad – hoc ordnance and an order for the future governance of an area not part of  Pakistan !!
The Chief Minister or the Legislative Assembly has no meaningful authority. Despite an elected Legislative Assembly, the Governor, an appointee of the Pakistan Government  and the GB Council with the Prime Minister of Pakistan as its Chairman and members appointed by Pakistan Government wields all power[15]. What strikes is that while AJK has a President and a Prime Minister, a Governor and a Chief Minister has been appointed for GB. Is this an endeavor to isolate the region with a view to ultimately pawn it with its all-weather friend  China ?
Has  Pakistan  displayed any loyalty for the sanctity of the territory belonging to the people of  Kashmir ? The ‘State Subject Rule’ in force in J & K, which restricts outsiders from settling down permanently, was abolished in GB in late 70s, opening the floodgates for outsiders of convenience to settle down in the area[16]. Incidentally, this rule is still operative in AJK as well as in the Indian administered part of  Kashmir . Shakshgam   Valley  (Approximately 5180 sq kms), a part of J & K was gifted to  China in 1963. An area of 42685 sq kms of J & K territory is under Chinese occupation[17]. The western press is replete with suggestions that GB has been leased to  China  by Pakistan  for 50 years. Access to GB has been restricted to the outside world[18]. While  Pakistan  managed to keep the region out of sight of the world,  China  has been given free access to GB and they have undertaken a large number of infrastructure projects in GB including the construction of the  Western Highway  (3105 km).  China has constructed a ‘Housing Colony’[19] and a Cemetery[20] in the area.  Having invested so much of resources, money, time and energy, will  China  walk away from GB? Is that the reason GB is not represented in the Pakistan Parliament unlike the other parts of the POK?
How has  Pakistan  treated the people of GB? The 1988 Ramzan riots were engineered by Musharraf, who was tasked to control violence by unleashing the tribal Pakhtun militia from North West Frontier Province (NWFP) belonging to a particular sect to kill innocent civilians, destroy houses and other assets[21]. The 2000 – 04 riots resulting in loss of life were a result of the introduction of a program of study in the Text Books meant to influence the innocent children to particular sect’s teachings[22]. Disembarking pilgrims from a particular sect returning from  Iran  and shooting them down in cold blood on the  Karakoram Highway  at Kohistan and Chilas, February-April 2012[23], in February 2012 is nothing but ethnic cleansing. The stories are endless. The question is, was  Pakistan  envisioned as a homeland for Muslims or a country meant to accommodate a particular sect of Islam?
Despite GB being the major portion of POK,  Pakistan  has kept GB politically deprived and constitutionally abandoned.  Pakistan ’s invective against Indian rule in  Kashmir  is nothing but hypocrisy to hide its own misrule in PoK.  The question is why has the discourse on J & K, be it at the international platforms or amongst the Human Rights agencies always centered around the part of Kashmir administered by  India  and not the rest of POK? It is time this mindset changes. 
Brigadier V Mahalingam is a former Force Commander of the National Security Guard and a Defence Analyst.

Views expressed are personal

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