Tuesday, 20 March 2012

India turns its back on people of Gilgit Baltistan, Author: pioneer

India turns its back on people of Gilgit Baltistan, Author: pioneer
Despite repeated assertions that all of J&K is an integral part of India, New Delhi has chosen to ignore atrocities Pakistan commits in areas occupied by it, says KG Suresh
Armed gunmen dressed in Army fatigues killed 18 Shias from Gilgit-Baltistan on the Karakoram Highway in the Kohistan area of Khyber-Pukhtoonkhwa province of Pakistan while the Shias were returning in a convoy from a pilgrimage to Iran on February 27.
According to the police, the gunmen flagged down four buses, boarded them and asked the passengers whether they were Shia or Sunni. The assailants then asked the Shias to step out of the buses and checked their identity cards before pumping bullets into them. All those killed were men while the injured included women and children. Ironically, this report, involving the lives of people from Gilgit-Baltistan, which India claims to be an integral part of its sovereign territory and is now currently under the occupation of Pakistan, was published on the ‘international’ page of one of India’s leading national newspapers. Of course, many others did not bother to publish the news at all.
The publication of the news item involving the massacre of de jure Indian citizens on the international page as against the front page hype given to a racial attack in Australia or United States against ‘mainstream’ Indians not only reflects an editorial oversight but also the gradual disappearance of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir from the collective consciousness of the nation as a whole.
Unlike in Pakistan, where alleged human rights violations and so-called excesses by the security forces in ‘Indian-controlled’ Jammu and Kashmir dominate the political and nationalist discourse, our discussions have narrowed down to the support to militancy in Jammu and Kashmir from across the border. It is as if the political leadership and intelligentsia of this country have accepted the de facto status of Jammu and Kashmir and the Line of Control as de jure. This is despite the fact that on February 22, 1994, both Houses of Parliament unanimously passed a resolution asking Pakistan to “vacate the areas of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, which they have occupied through aggression”.
In an unprecedented move, the resolution also expressed “regret and concern at the pitiable conditions and violations of human rights and denial of democratic freedoms of the people in those areas of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, which are under the illegal occupation of Pakistan.”
Thus, India has been reiterating time and again that Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is an integral part of its territory and that the people of that region are constitutionally and legally the citizens of India. Yet, in our quest for that ever elusive and idealist fraternal ties with Islamabad, we tend to forget or even ignore certain harsh facts staring us. The total area under illegal Pakistani occupation, including the so-called ‘Azad Kashmir’ and Gilgit-Baltistan, is a mammoth 78,114 sq km. The area of Jammu and Kashmir under Chinese occupation is 42,685 sq km and area ceded to China by Pakistan is 5,130 sq km.
Thus, the total area under illegal occupation of Pakistan and China in Jammu and Kashmir is 1,20,799 sq km while India is left with just 1,01,437 sq kms. The situation and the condition of the people in PoK and Northern Areas was highlighted at an international conference organised by the New Delhi based think tank India Foundation in the national capital recently.
Attending the conference were Mumtaz Khan, a native of PoK, who fled to Canada more than two decades ago because of alleged persecution and Senge Hasnan Sering of Gilgit, who currently lives in Washington. Mumtaz Khan runs the International Centre for Peace and Democracy in Toronto while Sering heads the Institute of Gilgit-Baltistan Studies in Washington. Both are well-known political activists in North America and Europe. Taking a dig at Pakistan, Mr Khan said the country never wanted to resolve the issue.
“The control of so-called ‘Azad Kashmir’ lies in the hands of the Kashmir Council run by Pakistan. The Muzaffarabad Assembly has been rendered useless,” Mumtaz Khan said, adding that people in PoK are living in fear and there is no freedom of expression. “At least we hear some news from the Indian side of Kashmir, but from our side there is complete blackout. PoK has been turned into a cantonment and nobody can escape from the eyes of the security agencies.”
Mr Sering argued that Pakistan can do nothing for Gilgit-Baltistan as constitutionally it is not a part of the country. “It (Pakistan) just exploits our resources and wants to continue with its political hegemony. Even the latest empowerment package is a farce as the power centre continues to be in Pakistan,” Mr Sering said.
“It has given us a pseudo provincial status but all our matters are decided by Gilgit-Baltistan Council that is controlled by the Pakistan establishment,” said Mr Sering.
Speaking about Chinese intervention in the region, Mumtaz Khan said, “Chinese companies are doing a lot of work in Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PaK). It needs to be taken seriously as it has its impact on the changing power politics in the region.”
A New York Times article by Seig Harrison states that at least 7,000-11,000 Chinese troops have been stationed in Gilgit-Baltistan region of PoK. A delegation from PoK at the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis in 2009 expressed their suspicion that Sunni majority Pakistan may exterminate the Shia majority in Gilgit-Baltistan to silence all opposition to their policies.
As for development indicators, the Northern Areas have no university or professional colleges. Adult literacy is 14 per cent for males and 3.5 per cent for women. There are no local dailies, local radio or television stations. There is just one doctor for 6,000 people. There have been widespread resentment and protests against the Pakistani establishment in the region over the years, which has evinced little interest in India so far.
The Gilgit-Baltistan United Action Forum for Self-Rule has been demanding the right to self-rule while the Balawaristan National Front has been urging the United Nations and International Court of Justice to book former President Pervez Musharraf and other Pakistani Generals as “war criminals” for genocide carried out by them in the Northern Areas. People have also been opposing tooth and nail the construction of mega dams, expressways, railways and oil and gas pipelines which may damage the ecosystem and ensue in environmental ramifications for the future generations of Gilgit-Baltistan.
In January 2010, Jammu and Kashmir National Awami Party leaders demanded that the Pakistani state must pull out its troops from populated areas of PoK forthwith. Unfortunately, New Delhi has chosen to remain a silent spectator to these atrocities and protests.
It is, therefore, no wonder that the people of PoK and also activists from the region are justifiably frustrated with New Delhi’s stance. Charging New Delhi with having the memory of a goldfish which lasts only seven seconds, the PoK activists want New Delhi to insist on Pakistan to resume traffic and trade across the Line of Control to benefit the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.
They also want reservation of seats in Indian higher education institutions such as IITs and IIMs. Even the migrants from PoK, mostly Hindus, who shifted to India post-partition and the Pakistan-sponsored tribal attack, have no political status in India including Jammu and Kashmir. India has not bothered to even fill the seats reserved for PoK in Jammu and Kashmir State Assembly with willing volunteers from the region or the migrants.
“India needs to be more proactive and practical rather than confining itself to issuing statements,” says Mr Sering.
And, to begin with, let the Indian media start reporting events from PoK and Northern Areas at least on the National pages, if not the front pages.
The author is a Delhi-based journalist.

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