Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Gilgit and Baltistan is back on the agenda

Gilgit and Baltistan is back on the agenda
Dr Shabir Choudhry 03 November 05

Legally and constitutionally areas of Gilgit and Baltistan are part of State of Jammu and Kashmir; and after defeat of the Maharaja troops in 1947, these areas were taken over by government of Pakistan. Since that date, unlike area of Azad Kashmir, which is now increasingly called Pakistani Administered Kashmir by the international community, areas of Gilgit and Baltistan are directly occupied by Pakistan.

Pakistan has no legal and constitutional right to control and rule these areas, especially against the public will. UN resolutions of 1948/49, and the Karachi Agreement of 1949, do not provide constitutional right to Pakistan to rule these areas the way Islamabad is ruling them.

India on the other hand claims that these areas are an ‘integral’ part of the Union of India on the strength of controversial accession made by the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir in 1947. This accession was made when the Maharaja had virtually lost control of his State, and was fleeing his Summer Capitol in order to escape from Tribesmen who were knocking the doors of Srinagar.

Soon after taking control of these areas, Pakistan appointed its own agent to govern these areas of the State, as Viceroys of Great Britain used to rule British colonies. The agent revived the black laws called Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR), which were imposed by the British when they leased the area from the Maharaja to keep an eye on the activities of the Soviet Union.

Under the FCR local people had no civil rights, and political activity was a very serious crime; and successive Pakistani governments continued with this tradition, and in some cases their rule has been worse than that of the British era.

It is interesting to note that Pakistan decided to divide the area of State under its control in to two separate entities: one area was called Azad Kashmir, and Gilgit and Baltistan was renamed as Northern Areas. It is unfortunate that people are increasingly using the name given by the Pakistani authorities, and official name is not used much. Commenting on the situation JKLF President Abbas Butt said, when a child is born, parents give him name not his neighbours who try to kidnap the child.

Pakistani authorities tried to gain some legitimacy by signing the Karachi Agreement with the Muslim Conference leaders of Azad Kashmir. One can see the legitimacy of this agreement that those ‘leaders’ who signed away Gilgit and Baltistan to Pakistan were told to keep away from these areas, and keep their politics limited to two and half districts of Azad Kashmir, which is now increasingly known as Pakistani Administered Kashmir. In other words puppets of Pakistan were ordered to sign on a dotted line and they did that without any hesitation, and benefited from ‘rewards’ which are given by occupying power to collaborators.

Many, including this writer, have examined power and azadi of Azad Kashmir government, but at times I am criticised for being biased in my approach. So I will quote a Pakistani writer F.S. Aijazuddin, who in his article, ‘It’s time to pay back’ published in Dawn, said: All its policies — whether administrative, socio-economic, political and especially its foreign policy — were controlled from the president/prime minister’s office in Islamabad, working in tandem with GHQ/ISI.’ He called Azad Kashmir government, a ‘political fiction’ which has ‘never been free of Pakistan’. He said Azad Kashmir government is ‘a cardboard monarch’ which is ‘allowed to reign but never permitted to rule’.

Pakistani authorities have been ‘very kind’ to people of these areas, and instead of a political agent, now Ministry of Kashmir Affairs rules them; and there have been some improvements in their conditions, but to a large extent they still, according to some commentators, live in dark ages, and have no civil and political rights. They have become a minority in their own area as Pakistan has very ‘generously’ violated the State Subject laws and have settled non- Kashmiris here to change the demography of the area.

Consequently this policy has created problems of its own, and generated tension and hatred. Pakistanis who have settled there or are appointed there to take jobs, which should have been the right of the local people, go there as superior beings. They treat the local people, as some Punjabi officers treated Bengalis of East Pakistan at one time, and this treatment is good ingredient for generating hatred and tension.

People of this area are human beings like any other people of the world, and they also like to live in peace and enjoy fruits of freedom, which unfortunately is not available to them. They started demanding for social and political rights which authorities were not prepared to ‘grant’ them, and best way to deal with this was to apply tried and tested principle of divide and rule.

Religion and ethnicity is best prescription for dividing people, and military government of General Zia used this generously, even within Pakistan, that attention of the people could be diverted. It is because of that policy we see sectarian clashes in Giglit and Baltistan and in Pakistan.

But there is a stark difference between the two sets of events. Sectarian clashes in Pakistan are result of religious hatred and strong divisions within the Pakistani communities; but that is not the case in Gilgit and Baltistan, as events there are generally engineered by agencies and people from outside the areas, or ignited by non- local people to generate tension and hatred.

In these engineered riots certain people and their properties are targeted not because of their religious affiliation but because of their political activities. These people are nationalists of Gilgit and Baltistan, and they oppose Pakistani rule there, and they suffer because of their political views and activities.

One should note that whereas in Pakistan after Shia and Sunni clashes curfew is not imposed for weeks, which is the case in Gilgit and Baltistan; and clashes in Pakistan are called communal riots. In Gilgit and Baltistan on the other hand, these riots are termed as ‘terrorism’, which implies that people of the area are fighting for their rights. They want to see an end to the Pakistani rule there, and it is because of this long curfews are imposed to punish the people. And it is because of this fight, Ministry of Kashmir Affairs; from time to time declare that they will deal with the terrorists with ‘an iron fist.’

I cannot remember that as a result of Shia Sunni clashes in Pakistan, a curfew was imposed for seventeen days. It is not done because the rioters are Pakistanis, and they are not seeking independence from Pakistan; which is the case in Gilgit and Baltistan.

Pakistani authorities call these areas, Northern Areas of Pakistan, even though they are not legally part of Pakistan. India on the other hand also has a claim over these areas. Government of Azad Kashmir, which is merely a puppet of Islamabad, also seeks control over these areas. People of these areas, however, don’t want to be part of either, as they feel being let down.

India’s claim to these areas is in theory only as in practise it appears that she had settled for what is under her control. All attempts of New Delhi since 1947 have been to maintain control over this territory at all costs; and have not shown much interest about these areas and plight of the people in the past. However it appears now that there is a change in India’s policy towards areas of Gilgit and Baltistan and Pakistani Administered Kashmir.

This change of policy became more visible when India broke its tradition and silence over the disturbances in Gilgit and Baltistan, and expressed Indian concern over loss of innocent lives there. An Indian Spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs while speaking about the situation in Gilgit and Baltistan, expressed hope that the ‘Pakistani forces would act with the utmost restraint and observe international human rights standards.’

These comments have surprised many political commentators, because India’s own record on human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir is bad, and is criticised by human rights organisations through out the world. And more over, New Delhi’s comments on an issue which Islamabad regards as sensitive, and which is extremely vital to the interests of Pakistan is not welcomed by Islamabad, especially at a time when the peace process if going on, and both governments are looking at other avenues of cooperation.

Pakistani government retorted without any delay, and reminded New Delhi of its own record on human rights. Tit for tat kind of propaganda of these governments aside, over the months it has become apparent that Gilgit and Baltistan has emerged as a serious issue on the political agenda; and there is growing understanding among different regions of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.

Writer is a Chairman Diplomatic Committee of JKLF, Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs and author of many books on Kashmir. He could be reached at:

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