Monday, April 16, 2012

UNO should intervene to stop genocide and rights violation in Gilgit Baltistan

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon
United Nations
New York, NY 10017 USA

Respected Sir,

Subject: UNO should intervene to stop genocide and rights violation in Gilgit Baltistan

I intend to draw your attention to a vital human rights issue which affects the two million people of Gilgit Baltistan. The region, declared disputed between India and Pakistan in 1948, is sandwiched strategically between India, Pakistan, China, Tajikistan and Afghanistan. UNO allowed Pakistan to assume temporary control over Gilgit Baltistan and stationed officials representing the UN Military Observer Group for India and Pakistan in both Gilgit and Skardu cities.

Till date, the natives of Gilgit Baltistan remain deprived of basic rights, the national identity and the right to self-governance as prescribed by the UN resolutions. On the other hand, gross level of human rights violations have continued to occur and in the aftermath of passenger’s massacre in Kohistan and Chilas, the right to free and safe travel has also been snatched away from the powerless residents. These incidents draw our attention towards involvement of militants and secret service personnel.

On February 28, 2012, militants wearing army uniform ambushed a bus in Kohistan and killed 18 Shia male passengers. Government has failed to arrest the assailants so far. The failure encouraged the terrorists who ambushed 34 buses near Chilas on April 3 2012 and killed dozens of Shia male passengers. The assailants numbering more than three thousand attacked the innocent passengers with stones, knives and automatic weapons. Eyewitness reports claim more than 50 deaths, scores injured and more than 100 abducted. The assailants torched 6 buses and pushed two in the Indus River.

The horrible incident occurred in front of police force and according to eyewitnesses; the police did not provide security to the passengers. Some local people of Chilas were later able to save the lives of 200 passengers.This horrible incident occurred in the reaction of the Gilgit grenade attacked in which a terrorist throw a hand grenade on the procession of Ahelsunat wal Jamaat . In this terrorist attacked 6 protesters died and more than 40 people injured in front of security forces.

Instead of arresting the miscreants of Gilgit Kohistan and Chilas, government resorted to imposing curfew in Gilgit city which has entered into 14th day. Under military control, life has crippled in the city and there is acute shortage of food and medicines. During the first ten days of curfew, there was a break of only 4 hours in which families arranged for food and water. The telecom system is completely blocked by the military and not news flows outside Gilgit. As majority of the workforce depend on daily wage labor for earnings, the curfew has forced them to remain shut in homes and lose the wages. Converting Gilgit Baltistan into a jail and denying basic food and medicine provisions is a gross violation of human rights. Military has arrested more than 100 youth from Gilgit.

Honorable Sir,

The disputed status of Gilgit Baltistan deprives us of political and judicial rights within Pakistani constitutional framework. The Chief Justice of Pakistan Supreme Court has refused to take the case of recent killings owing to the disputed nature of Gilgit Baltistan. Therefore we request the UNO to make necessary arrangements to ensure safety for the natives of the region. We demand that UNO should intervene to stop genocide at the hands of government backed terrorists.

We would like to draw your attention to the following:

1- In the light of UN resolution of January 5, 1949, the UN Security Council must ensure genuine political, judicial, economic and cultural autonomy in Gilgit Baltistan

2- Given that Pakistan has failed to ensure security in Gilgit Baltistan, UNO must station its peace keeping troops in the disputed region

3- Pakistan must be asked to open traditional trade routes leading towards India and Tajikistan which can help sustain local economy and provide alternate safe routes to travel as currently, travel on the Karakoram Highway is life threatening.

4- Violating UN resolutions, Pakistan abolished State Subject Rule in Gilgit Baltistan in 1974 and subsequently settled tens of thousands of her nationals to change local demography. Today the people of Gilgit Baltistan are threatened with ethnic cleansing. UNO must ask Pakistan to respect UN resolutions and remove her citizens who have damaged the social fabric by spreading extremism.

5- UNO must ask Pakistan to remove fake sedition cases and release all political prisoners. A UN commission must be sent to Gilgit Baltistan to assess gross human rights violations, killings, detentions and torture of political workers.

6- Recently more than 120 soldiers of Pakistan controlled Gilgit Baltistan and Kashmir died near the Siachen glacier after glacial melt and overflow damaged a village. UNO must ask India and Pakistan to remove forces from Siachen sector and convert the area into a peace park.

7- Pak must end curfew in Gilgit and ensure free and safe travel to all inhabitants on all routes.

In good faith,

Manzoor Parwana
Gilgit-Baltistan United Movement
Skardu, Baltistan

Date: 16/4/2012

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Gilgit-Baltistan: People should realize the gravity of the situation and promote unity

SKARDU: 9/4/2012

Ideological terrorism is being promoted in Gilgit Baltistan and if the residents of the region do not rise to defend the ideological boundaries of the region and defeat those who are hatching conspiracies against the nation then we will lose everything. These views were expressed by Gilgit Baltistan United Movement (GBUM) chairman Manzoor Hussain Parwana while speaking at a program organized by Karmang Students Federation on 8 April 2012.

Parwana alleged that PPP lead government is conspiring to pitch the people of Gilgit-Baltistan against each other on the basis of sectarianism. The region is once again has plunged into the sectarian warfare to prolong anti people colonial agenda.

He said the people of Gilgit-Baltistan should realize the gravity of the situation and promote unity and brotherhood in their ranks to foil the designs of their enemies. The history and culture of Gilgit Baltistan was being distorted. The world is not our enemy but sectarianism, poverty, unemployment, favoritism, corruption and illiteracy is our common enemies were.

He said peace cannot be ensured in the region unless and until those behind the killing of innocent people in Kohistan , Chilas and Gilgit and conspirators behind the recent incidents were hanged at the “Chowk” publicly. These incidents should be probed by an independent organization like the UN to ascertain whether state machinery or some non-state elements were behind the spread of sectarian hatred and violence in Gilgit Baltistan.

He said a delegation of nationalist parties would soon visit all parts of Gilgit Baltistan to meet people from various walks of life and explore the possibilities of finding a lasting peace in the region because peace committees and Jirgas formed by the state have always failed to achieve their objectives.

Issued by
Manzoor Hussain Parwana
Gilgit Baltistan United Movement

Gilgit Baltistan: Leader demand to maintain peace in the region

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Gilgit Baltistan: Joyride to Death in Pakistan

Engineer Manzoor Hussain Parwana

When the police constable stopped a Skardu bound bus at the Shangla check post and asked for the identity cards, it made many passengers turn pale with fear. Without wasting any time, many ducked their heads behind the backrest while others pretended to fall asleep. Some even dropped their ID cards under their seats. It was only after the constable checked few of the ID cards and got off the bus that the passengers felt like a heavy weight was lifted off their chests.

At first sight, it might not seem a normal reaction to many except to those who have read about the unfortunate incident of February 28, when several armed men in military uniforms pulled 18 Shias out of four Gilgit bound buses and shot and killed them in front of their loved ones. The incident occurred in the broad daylight and very close to the two check posts located in Kohistan district. Yet, the vehicles carrying more than 20 assailants were able to disappear from the crime scene without any trace.

After the bloodshed, many in Gilgit Baltistan raised the slogans, like “Yeh Jo Dehshetgardi Hai; Is Ke Peechay Wardi Hai”, which suggests that the people of Gilgit Baltistan believe that the assailants had support of the Pakistani agencies. The recent incident reminds them of the Shia massacre of 1988, when military dictator Zia-ul-Haq directly supported the militants during attacks on fourteen villages of Gilgit Baltistan. Thousands of people lost lives, honor and property during that episode which lasted for sixteen days. The slogans also show that people have lost faith in the law enforcement agencies in their responsibility to maintain law and order in the region. They accuse the paramilitary of fueling sectarianism in Gilgit Baltistan to weaken the masses and tighten control over the strategically located disputed region.

As terror has engulfed the region, even routine checking of vehicles at police and military check posts frightens the passengers. Now the peaceful and innocent people of Gilgit Baltistan, who are known worldwide for their hospitality and loud laughter, are forced to undertake the journey from Islamabad to Gilgit Baltistan in the shadow of death. Now people are even hesitant to leave the vehicles to use toilets or obtain food from the restaurants as are too scared. They feel that the lofty and graceful mountains of Diamer and Kohistan have become very unfriendly to them; the same mountains which once drew thousands of climbers every summer.

For the people of Gilgit Baltistan, travel on the Karakoram Highway is no joyride. Some among the passengers are students attending the universities of Pakistan; others are temporary employees in different urban centers of the country; while some are patients on their way to the hospitals in Islamabad and Lahore. If government plans to provide jobs, and health and educational services in Gilgit Baltistan, then these people would not have to travel and risk their lives like this.

They ride these buses and vans out of compulsion since they have no alternative means to travel. KKH is the sole road that links Gilgit Baltistan with Pakistan. On the other hand, air travel is extremely expensive and poor people of Gilgit Baltistan, where the per capita income is one-fourth of that of Pakistan’s average, cannot afford to ride a plane.

A soldier attached to the Northern Light Infantry (NLI) and currently stationed in North Waziristan Agency accompanied the scribe in the same bus. While talking about safety measures during the travel on KKH, he said, “The travellers especially the Shias have to prepare in advance to conceal their identities to ensure personnel security. The journey is emotionally and psychologically exhausting. If we travel without ID cards, then the security forces hold us back, but if we carry the cards, then we lose our lives”.

On average, 5,000 people travel daily on KKH between Gilgit Baltistan and Islamabad. This means that in Gilgit Baltistan, there are more than 5,000 families which have to spend hours in stress, fear and pain, until their loved ones have made it to the other end of the journey. Many mothers, sisters and wives spend millions of rupees daily to make religious offerings as part of their prayers for the safety of the passengers. On occasions, people slaughter domestic animals as part of the offerings to God while women even make offerings of their jewelry on the shrines and sacred tombs. One might not realize, but paying for life insurance through religious offerings does affect the financial stability of these families.

When the bus reached Besham Qila, Ali Hussain, one of the passengers, received a call from his mother, who had sold her jewelry for ten thousand rupees to pay for his airfare. She had strictly forbidden her son to travel by road given the looming danger in the aftermath of the Kohistan killings. However, after waiting for four days, and experiencing repeated flight cancellations due to bad weather, Ali Hussain embarked on the same bus with the scribe for Skardu. He lied to his mother about his whereabouts and ensured to continue to wait for the plane ride. People like Ali Hussain find it very difficult to justify paying for daily hotel and taxi charges, especially if the same money was needed somewhere else to pay for a child’s tuition fee or health care of a family member. After finishing the conversation with his mother, Ali Hussain then called his friends in Islamabad and requested them to follow his version of the story, if his mother or any other relative ever called them.

The case of Kohistan killings will be forgotten like the previous incidents. The corrupt and incompetent government has as usual blamed it on the religious groups and called it a sectarian issue. It distracts the masses temporarily and hides the crimes of the real culprits who live under the protection of state. At the same time, it leaves longer lasting negative impacts on the society.

A hotel owner in Kohistan who was serving tea to the bus passengers said, “Government is looking for excuses to start a military operation in Kohistan. Our people are not involved in the Shia killing but our land was used by the assailants. The Karakoram Highway is dotted with security check posts every few miles and yet, the assailants escaped conveniently. For us, KKH is the lifeline. The vehicles, goods and passengers which travel on this road sustain our economy and livelihoods. How can we think of destroying our own livelihood by killing passengers and customers? It is beyond anyone’s imagination. We will starve to death if there is no traffic on KKH. Now the people of Gilgit Baltistan are demanding to open the Line of Control (LOC) and travel to Kargil. If that happens, then it will be a significant financial loss for the businesses on the KKH.”

The Sunni youth from Darel who tried to protect the Shia passengers and got himself killed in Kohistan reminds us that the issue is not about Shia and Sunni differences. On the same day, a Sunni passenger from Gilgit claimed one of the Shia passengers as his brother and saved his life, which is a testimony that Shias and Sunnis desire to co-exist peacefully. It is a shame that the government has failed to arrest the real culprits and has resorted to blaming the Sunnis of Darel and Kohistan for the mayhem.

Now the government is planning to establish 30 more check posts on the KKH and few more in the Gilgit city. Kohistan incident has become yet another excuse to beef up security in Gilgit Baltistan and convert the region into a jail. This will also add to the time of travel on KKH.

From Islamabad, it took 34 hours to reach at Alam Bridge, the point where Gilgit and Skardu roads fork. When the bus crossed over the Indus River and lurched towards Skardu, people rejoiced and congratulated each other. One passenger, Haji Mohammad distributed tangerines among others to celebrate safe journey. The life slowly returned to the bus as one could hear cheerful conversations and occasional chuckles. The thought of an impatiently waiting mother also brought smile on the face of Ali Hussain. The passengers felt like receiving second life after arriving unhurt and alive to Baltistan. If the government takes serious measures for security of the passengers on KKH, then such joys could become permanent. Before another incident like Kohistan takes place, the charter of demand presented to the regime by the leading Shia and Sunni religious groups namely Anjuman Imamia and Anjuman Ahlesunnat Waljamat should be fulfilled

Engineer Manzoor Hussain Parwana
Gilgit Baltistan United Movement