Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gilgit Baltistan:A saga of Pakistani colonisation

Gilgit Baltistan: A saga of Pakistani colonization

Gilgit-Baltistan, also called Federally Administered Northern Areas, was once a part of Jammu and Kashmir. But since 1947, when India and Pakistan achieved independence, the unfortunate territory is facing the wrath of colonisation.
The people of this strategically important region revolted against the autocratic Dogra ruler and carved out an independent state, "Republic of Gilgit", on Nov 1, 1947. While the freedom fighters were preparing to liberate the adjacent Baltistan region, the Pakistan Army invaded Gilgit.
The president of Republic of Gilgit was dismissed Nov 16, 1947. Since then it has been an unending battle for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, who have been resisting against the deprivation of basic human, democratic and judicial rights for 60 years.
No accession deal was ever signed with Pakistan. In fact Pakistan, in its "Karachi Pact" of April 28, 1951, admitted that Gilgit-Baltistan is part of Jammu and Kashmir.
As Pakistan admits this reality, there is no moral justification of subjecting the local communities to the clauses of the constitution of Pakistan. If an autonomous like set-up of governance is possible in "Azad Jammu and Kashmir", why the same is not replicated in the region, people wonder.
Despite the area being officially declared part of Jammu and Kashmir, the state subject rule (SSR) was abolished during the regime of Gen Ayub Khan. It is a conspiracy to convert the local communities into a minority by a systematic settlement programme of immigrants from North West Frontier Province and Punjab.
The region's administrative body of 30 members, called Northern Areas Legislative Council, is headed by the Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs based in Islamabad. The chief executive, appointed by the Pakistan government from among members of the National Assembly, enjoys the status of a ruler of the territory. He is not answerable to the council as he represents Islamabad.
The council cannot make or amend laws because every bill needs the chief executive's assent. The deputy chief executive is the senior-most elected office holder in the council but works just as personal assistant of the chief executive. There is no provision for moving a no-confidence motion to remove the deputy. The council has no powers concerning approval of the budgetary allocations. It cannot act as a check on the executive.
India has granted constitutional, political and judicial rights to the people of Ladakh. Nearly half of the population of Ladakh is Muslim and they enjoy these rights. Why are the same basic human rights denied to the Muslims of Gilgit-Baltistan? Why are the local communities treated like worthless chattels by Pakistani authorities while we live in the 21st century?
While Pakistan demands demilitarisation of parts of the Jammu and Kashmir, in the name of establishing peace, both military and paramilitary forces such as Khyber Rifles, Chitral Scouts, Sindh Ranger and Frontier Constabulary are stationed in Gilgit-Baltistan. Recently the numbers of these armed forces were increased while both India and Pakistan claim moving towards building peace.
The principal civil servant is the chief secretary, while secretaries head other departments. Ironically domicile residents of Gilgit-Baltistan are not eligible for the post of chief secretary and secretaries.
Each district has a court of district and sessions Judge. There is a chief court, comprising a chairman and two members. The government nominates members of chief court. Merit is not a criterion in selecting the members.
There is no public service commission, no services tribunal, no service rules or structure, no TV station, no independent press, no commerce institution, no medical or engineering college or university and no appellate court.
Gilgit-Baltistan is one of the most poverty stricken areas of Pakistan. Alarmingly low literacy, absence of industries and bad road links, lack of energy sources and job opportunities have forced thousands to leave the region in quest of livelihood. It seems that keeping the region backward is a state policy.
The communication department of Gilgit-Baltistan is managed by the Pakistan Army. The department is called Special Communication Organization, where most employees are non-residents of the Gilgit-Baltistan. The department for developing infrastructure, called Federal Work Organization (FWO), is also in the hands of the army. The local people are not allowed to enter FWO.
The key posts of civil services are reserved for people from other provinces of Pakistan. The retired army and civil bureaucrats have been deployed on all key posts of civil services while the local educated people are facing unemployment.

Manzoor Hussain Parwana
(The write is Baltistan-based editor of a banned monthly magazine "Kargil International" and a rights activist)

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