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Balawaristan facts and problems


This article is based on the discussion and conversations between Chairman Balawaristan National Front (BNF) Abdul Hamid Khan and me on the occasion of an International seminar on Society Culture and politics in the Karakoram Himalayas organised by Himalayan research and culture foundation, Delhi. This was a great and cause based seminar, where intellectuals, writers, human right activist and renowned journalist were participated.  Abdul Hamid Khan Chairman Balawaristan National Front (BNF) was one of the participants. He presented a long the paper entitled “Constitutional Status of Pakistan Occupied Gilgit Baltistan, Chitral and Shenaki Kohistan. He elaborated the facts and findings of his research about the Gilgit and Chitral and widely thrown the light on the human condition of these area.

After the seminar I got this opportunity to talk and discuss about the situation of these area. I asked so many questions to know the real condition of the people living in this area. I asked what is the  History of Balawaristan and why its called Balawaristan and what is the main issue of this region ? His answer was “  Gilgit Baltistan has remained a victim of human, social, economic and political exploitation for the last 61 years due to stubbornness of both Pakistan and India. Moreover, there is a danger to the very identity and survival of the region. With the division of the Subcontinent in 1947 the imperialist powers of the world divided the states on the basis of their likes and dislikes and the future of Gilgit-Baltistan fell prey to the great game in the region. Before 1947, this region saw small-scale wars in which the local people without difference of color, race and religion fought and defeated the invaders for the collective good of the area. But after partition of the Subcontinent in 1947, not only the newly-liberated democratic region was attacked on November 16, 1947 but also all means were utilized to convert the area into a colony by adopting a number of bogus agreements keeping the people in the dark. Besides, conspiracies were also hatched to divide the local people. The masses first demanded their basic rights and the government promised that they would be given all the rights like roads, schools, hospital etc., step by step. When the people realized that outsider bureaucrats and rulers cannot ensure their rights, they demanded that the region should be made a province. On this the rulers said it would damage the cause of Kashmir. Then the masses said give us an Azad Kashmir-type of setup. The rulers started to delay the issue on one pretext or the other. On the whole, the government had neither a program in the past nor it has it today to end the deprivations of the people. But to kill two birds with one stone, the government sowed the seed of sectarianism in the area which made the future of Gilgit-Baltistan a big question mark. Now the people are justified to ask whether constitutional packages and agreements are enough to end the over 60 years long deprivations. Can the people meet the challenges of the 21st century without having even basic facilities. Is it possible to decide the future of over two million people without their consent. These are the questions which have now developed into a lava that can any time burst out. We understand that the future of this region does not lie in construction of roads, power houses and other projects but is liked with the right of self-rule. History tells us that no nation gives sacrifices to make itself a part of others but strives to gain freedom. On the other hand, history is also witness to the fact that to enslave the people of an area they are entangled in petty issues so that they cannot come out of the mess to ask for major rights.We would like to advise the democratic government of Pakistan to understand the realities of the present-day world which has shrunk into a global village. In today’s world no nation can be kept in the dark, so the rulers should transfer self-rule rights to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan as a first step. Because packages cannot safeguard the future of the people and their identity. Till the resolution of the Kashmir issue the constitution-less Gilgit-Baltistan should be given a setup under which the people could run their day-today affairs. They should also have the right to utilize their resources as they wish.

I asked what are your efforts in this regard to achieve the basic rights and amenities. And it is really worth? Mr. Khan said this the an effort to achieve the minimum living right and protect human rights of the people. For this I am raising the issue on deferent platforms. Earlier I  rasied this issue at a conference under Interfaith International held in UNHRC building in Geneva on . In his speech during the conference, I covered crucial areas such as judiciary, law and order, human rights, constitutional issues and unemployment and the sense of deprivation prevalent among the people of the region. He blamed Pakistan for the problems being faced by the region. He said judiciary doesn’t exist as a full and independent department in Gilgit-Baltistan. There are two courts called Chief Court and Appellant Court, whose members (not called Judges) are appointed by the Pakistani minister for Kashmir and Northern Affairs on contractual basis. These judges appointment is not made on merit basis rather solely on the political and religious considerations. Members/Judges loyalty is not with law or Justice but widely act under the direction from that minister and Pakistan’s bureaucrats who are holding administrative, financial and judicial powers in the area. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: There is no freedom of expression in Gilgit-Baltistan. More than 200 political leaders and workers and religious people were tortured, sent behind bars and many were killed when they dared to express their views againstPakistan, he added. Whereas, media was never allowed to function and flourish as authorities have widely been discouraging any attempt to launch any indigenous media in Gilgit-Baltistan. Numerous instances of victimization and banning of the weekly and monthly magazines have been reported by the Pakistan based media and complaints were lodged with the UN human rights commission in Geneva. The monthly Kargil Editor in Chief Manzoor Parwana and Editor Shezad were arrested and the magazine was banned.A book written by Abdul Hamid Khan, Chairman Balawaristan National Front under the title of “The last colony of 21st century (Urdu and English), was banned and sedition charges lodged against the author. Similarly, editor of Kargil Manzoor Parwana and Shehzad Agha were also charged under the sedition cases after they reported the stories of Kargil war victims belonging to NLI, Northern Areas Infantry. There are a number of cases registered against political and human rights activists. HUMAN RIGHTS: Mr Khan alleged that human rights abuses are widespread and common in Gilgit-Baltistan but unfortunately absence of local media, independent judiciary, misrepresentation and distortion of facts have kept them under the wrap. “There is no human rights organization in this part of the world. Human Right Commission of Pakistan has prepared a report only last year but that was also partially true. World famous human rights organizations do not give any attention towards this most neglected area. This is the only part of the world, where human rights are 100 percent violated because the local indigenous people have no right to appeal in any court against the violations. More than 200 political activists and leaders of this land are facing fake sedition charges. The International Crisis Group (ICG) has issued a bleak report on Gilgit and Baltistan, highlighting what it called the “embittered” feelings of the area’s inhabitants because of Islamabad’s “unwillingness” to devolve power to its elected representatives. HRCP Report Sept 2006: The people of Northern Areas (NAs) are seeking an end to the long ambiguity over their constitutional status, access to basic rights and an end to unrest, sectarian violence and sense of uncertainty currently prevailing in the region, said a report of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on Northern Areas. RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: The intensity of the situation can be understood that government declared schools and public buildings as jail when jails were insufficient to accommodate the detainees in the recent past. The dispute erupted when government decided to introduce one sect curriculum in the schools that created serious opposition from Shia community. The intention of this discrimination was not to appease the beneficiary sect but to create sectarian gap among the local people with the evil intention of divide and rule. A prominent Shia leader of Gilgit-Baltistan Syed Agha Ziauddin was killed on 8th Jan 2005 in Gilgit because of his firm opposition to the colonial treatment of the occupation regime. He was killed with the intention to create sectarian tension among the local indigenous people. Meanwhile, talking to Baang from Brussels, Chairman BNF Abdul Hamid Khan expressed concern over the recent arrest of local people in Gilgit-Baltistan on the charge of their links with the militant Taliban and planning sabotage activities in the region.Mr Khan claimed that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan had no links with the Taliban and such measures by security forces were aimed at creating sectarian hatred and violence in the region to prolong and perpetuate Pakistani rule in Gilgit-Baltistan. He said the people of the region belonging to different schools of thought had been living in peace and harmony for centuries. He said the locals had always fought foreign elements unitedly in the past and would be doing it in future as well. He said if the terrorists entered the region with the blessings of outsider elements, they would certainly sabotage the peace of the region to achieve their masters’ objectives but the local people will never become their supporters or partners.He, however, expressed the fear that terrorists can enter the region under the guise of internally displaced persons from Malakand division or by impersonating themselves as traders and businessmen, because there is no proper system in place to identify a person coming to the region whether he is really an IDP, businessman or else. He said the process of importing outsiders to the region and to settle them here has continued for a long time due to which the locals are being turned into a minority in their own land. He said due to the abolition of the State Subject Rule, outsiders have gained control on the economy of the region at the cost of the local people. This has also led to frustration and deprivation among the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, he added. The BNF chief held the government of Pakistan responsible for the situation and said it did nothing to safeguard the interests of the locals and stop the influx of outsiders into the region, endangering the peace of the area. Mr Khan demanded that State Subject Rule must be restored in the region to protect the rights of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.In reply to a question, the BNF chief said the involvement of the outsider administration in organizing the annual Shandur Festival should be ended and the event should be handed over to the local people of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral, because the Mela is the mirror of our cultural and historical heritage. He said only the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral can make sure the holding of the festival in a peaceful and befitting manner.The BNF chief called upon the people of the region to promote unity in their ranks and foil the conspiracies being hatched to create law and order situation in the region. He also expressed concerns over the killing of NLI and NA Scouts personnel in the military operation in Malakand and demanded that the NLI and Scouts personnel should be sent back to the region. He said the people of the region should raise voice in this connection.

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