Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Speech of Dr Shabir Choudhry on Gilgit Baltistan in Geneva

Speech of Dr Shabir Choudhry in a seminar arranged by INTERFAITH INTERNATIONAL in Geneva on 16 September 2009.
How Constitutional, Political, Cultural and Economic rights are violated in Gilgit and Baltistan?

Mr Chairman, friends and colleagues aslamao alaykam and afternoon.

A comment was made earlier that we are here to look at ‘legal’ acts of Pakistan in Gilgit Baltistan. Since Gilgit Baltistan is not legally part of Pakistan, and article 257 of Pakistani constitution makes that clear; so any action they take is extra constitutional and illegal. I want to say that we are here to examine ‘illegal’ acts of Pakistan and oppose them, as they are illegal and undemocratic.

It is generally agreed that democracy is a form of government where people can democratically elect their rulers and hold them accountable for their actions. In other words it is a government of people and for the people - a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation in which free and fair elections are held. In all democracies a right of political expression, a right of speech and freedom of press is essential. Furthermore political pluralism, equality before law and respect for human rights of all citizens is must.

But in Pakistan and especially in areas of Jammu and Kashmir occupied by Pakistan, this rule does not apply. Here it is a government of bureaucrats and for the interest of the bureaucrats. Their main aim is to protect and enhance their interest and interest of the establishment they represent. By establishment I mean bureaucrats - civil and military, secret agencies, top army elite, political elite which has always been there in one form another for many decades.

Pakistan always had imperialist designs towards State of Jammu and Kashmir; they wanted to grab the State by hook or by crook. After failing to convince the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir to accede to Pakistan they resorted to military means and managed a tribal invasion on 22 October 1947. This military adventure resulted in first direct military clash between India and Pakistan. When a cease fire was arranged on 1st January 1949, Pakistan was in control of a large territory of the State, which was further divided in to so called Azad Kashmir or Free Kashmir and ‘Northern Areas’ which is constituent part of the State and was officially known as Gilgit and Baltistan.

Whereas areas of Pakistani Administered Kashmir got some political rights and semi autonomous status in 1970, areas of Gilgit Baltistan were directly ruled by Islamabad with draconian laws without any civil and political rights. The present government of Pakistan which claims to be a champion of democracy and fundamental human rights has pronounced a new package for the people of Gilgit Baltistan and has hailed it as ‘empowering people’ and ‘granting people independence’.

People of Gilgit Baltistan have rejected this package as ‘old wine in new bottles’. There has been strong opposition to this Package from various parts of the State, especially from Pakistani Administered Kashmir. Having said that I want to confess, that like in other oppressed and colonised nations, we also have collaborators on both sides of the LOC and they have welcomed the Package.

Mr Chairman

In my view the package has one positive thing – recognition of the fact that this territory is not ‘Northern Areas’ of Pakistan; and they have officially been recognised as Gilgit Baltistan. Apart from that the Package has given some more rights to the people, but aim of Islamabad is not to give more rights to people, but to annex this area by electing a docile Assembly and ask them to sign on a dotted line to complete the task of division of the State. First PPP government in 1970s tried to make Azad Kashmir a ‘Province’ of Pakistan; and abandoned it only after fiercely opposition.

Islamabad has already appointed PPP Stalwart as a ‘Governor’, who will ensure that desired results are achieved in the elections which are due to be held on 12 November 2009. Even Pakistani political parties are not happy on this appointment, as they fear a PPP ‘Governor’ could not be impartial in the forthcoming elections and he will rig them to elect or select people who are loyal to him and his Party.

This Package was prepared by a Committee that consisted of Pakistani bureaucrats and political activists, and was headed by a man called - Qamar Zaman Qaira who has become a new ‘Governor’ of the area. In other words as a head of this Committee he promoted himself to become a ‘Governor’; and this act alone shows this man cannot be impartial as he has vested interests.

This Governor is called a ‘Viceroy’ of Gilgit Baltistan, and he will be a political master of the area; and he won’t be accountable for what he does in an area more than 29 thousand Sq miles; and to more than two million people. People of the area will have no role in his selection. This unelected Pakistani man will have enormous powers. He will even select a cabinet for Chief Minister. He will also have senior Pakistani Office Bearers, again selected by Islamabad to help him to accomplish his task of ruling this colony of Pakistan to promote interest of Pakistan at the expense of the local people.

This Committee did not consult any person from the area. Even their supporters and collaborators were not taken in to confidence, as they were not deemed suitable to be consulted on this crucial matter even though it was to have great impact on lives of millions of people. Thinking in Islamabad is that of an old grandma who claims to know everything; and who wants to assert her control in her own home and in homes of her neighbours.

Even not all Pakistanis are in favour of this new package. A member of Pakistan National Assembly, Marvi Memon wrote in the News International on 14 September, and I quote:

‘What is most misleading in all government statements on the package is the assertion that this package gives most autonomy. But the fact is that it is the Council which has all the powers. The Council of eight un-elected representatives will be ruling Gilgit-Baltistan from Islamabad. These eight include the prime minister and his cabinet members. Even when the rest of the seven elected Gilgit-Baltistan members are elected onto the Council they will be in minority. This is not autonomy. The new Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly has no concept of an opposition as described in the Order. Moreover, all material powers are vested either with the prime minister through the Council or with the governor who is vice chairman of the Council. Since the chief minister, the elected representative of the people, does not have the same powers, it is in effect governor’s rule’. Unquote

The ‘Council’ Marvi Menon has mentioned is Gilgit Baltistan Council which will hold all the powers and Prime Minister of Pakistan will be its Chairman. All the major decisions will be taken in this Council which will have majority of unelected Pakistanis who have no direct link or interest in the area. They will decide what is good for the people of the area. They will decide who should be promoted and who should be appointed; and these decisions could not be challenged any where. This is a democracy in a Pakistani style.

I have plenty to say on the new package. I can also quote many things from critics from Gilgit Baltistan, and other parts of Jammu and Kashmir; but in my view it is better to quote criticism of a Pakistani. So once again I want to quote Marvi Memon, who says:

‘No amount of paid articles to ridicule the valid criticisms can win the people of Gilgit-Baltistan over. No amount of paid welcome parties for non-Gilgit-Baltistan governors can give the impression that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are with the PPP government. The protests of the nationalists, the political parties and the disgruntled youth are a testament to the actual feelings of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan’.

Even a Pakistani politician and a legislator believe that people of the region are not happy with this new package, even though it has some good points in it. They know that it is a trap in a name of democracy. Like people of other civilised countries, people of Gilgit Baltistan also want to enjoy fruits of democracy. They want rule of law, political and economic rights, equality, accountability and transparency, but not at the cost of their freedom and submission to Islamabad.

Mr Chairman

Today the world appears to be united in their fight against terrorism and fight against Talibans, who it is claimed are major source of terrorism and instability in the region. As a result of this war on terrorism Afghanistan has suffered enormously and tens of thousands of innocent people have perished even though Afghanistan had no role in tragic event of 9/11. Moreover the Talibans are not an Afghan phenomenon. They were exported to Afghanistan to accomplish certain tasks.

Talibans are a product of a deliberate policy which has its own mechanism, source of inspiration and source of training and funding. It is wishful thinking to defeat this ideology and this creature while the infrastructure that created this monster is still alive and kicking; while it is still pursuing policies which create more Talibans. Brains and policy that produced Talibans have only changed their tactics; their real goals and strategic thinking has not changed.

Whereas I am seriously concerned about peace and stability of the region, my fear is that forces of violence and destruction could be unleashed in my homeland – areas of Gilgit Baltistan. This will help Islamabad to strengthen their hold and strangulate those forces which believe in democratic rights for all citizens and which regard Islamabad as a colonial ruler.

Furthermore this policy of talibanisation of Gilgit Baltistan will help Islamabad to protect and promote interest of the elite which controls and runs Pakistan in name of national interest. In view of this, we totally reject this new package and demand that Islamabad should relinquish its control and let people of the region run their affairs according to their interests and aspirations.

I thank you Mr Chairman for your patience.

Dr. Shabir Choudhry, Director Institute Kashmir Affairs
Tel: 0044 77909 42471 Email:
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