HR Body To Check Rights Violations In PoK
7 July 2003
The Indian Express
New Delhi: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) is reported to have formally set up its core group in Gilgit, the headquarters of Pakistan's Northern Areas, a part of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. The Daily Times reported on Monday that the HRCP has set up its Gilgit group to 'keep an eye on the violation of human rights in that region'. According to the newspaper, 'HRCP National Coordinator, Hussain Naqi, said the region the worst example of rights violations. Pakistan had kept the region in constitutional limbo for the past 57 years'. The newspaper quoted Naqi as saying in a meeting in Gilgit that 'the Pakistani establishment kept Gilgit and Baltistan without any constitutional status with a pledge that if a plebiscite were held on the Kashmir issue they (Pakistanis) would use the votes of Gilgit-Baltistan in their favour'. Another person quoted by the newspaper, Advocate Asadullah Khan, president of the Young Lawyer's Forum in the Northern Areas, said that 'the people of the Northern Areas had been tortured whenever they raised their voices against the rights violations in the region'. Gilgit-Baltistan, also called Balwaristan, is part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, and is directly administered by Islamabad which calls it the Northern Areas (of Pakistan). The population of Gilgit-Baltistan, primarily Shiite Muslims was brought under one federally administered territory after Pakistan occupied Balwaristan on November 16, 1947. Movements for freedom from Pakistani rule in the Gilgit-Baltistan area have been brutally suppressed by the Pakistani establishment. The entire region is under the direct control of Islamabad, under a Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas Division which is comprised of non-local officers, including a judicial commissioner against whose judgements there is no right to appeal in higher courts, including the Supreme Court. The local elected body, called the Northern Areas Legislative Council, has no power even in running the local adminstration. Over the years, the Pakistani establishment has strived to alter the demographic profile of the region, allocating tracts of lands to non-locals and encouraging Punjabis and Pashtuns to take up residence. In addition to being a region of oppressed people, the Balwaristan region has also become the sanctuary of Islamic terrorists on the run from US forces in the region. In recent months, there have been reports of fugitive al-Qaeda and Taliban groups moving into the Gilgit-Baltistan region. These terrorists reportedly moved from the lawless tribal areas along the Pak-Afghan border and from adjoining Badhakhshan province in Afghanistan. Even as General Pervez Musharraf's army of intelligence and security forces 'cooperate' with US troops to hunt Taliban and al-Qaeda in Pakistan, there have been no reports of any such operations in the Gilgit-Baltistan region. Even today, the region remains out of bounds to foreigners and journalists. And those who have travelled to the region, have had to take 'guided' tours organised by the Pakistan Army or the intelligence agencies.