Gilgit, Baltistan happy to be in Kashmir mainstream
7 September 2005
The News International
Islamabad: Pakistani participants from Gilgit and Baltistan felt that for the first time they were recognised as the equal stakeholders in the Kashmir dispute when they travelled recently about 1500 km to come to Srinagar. At the moment they are not allowed to come across the LOC. Their presence was made possible with other Pakistanis by the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation and the Delhi Policy Group which met for an Intra Kashmir Dialogue in Srinagar. Participants from this dialogue both from Indian held Kashmir and from Azad Kahsmir say that though the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad bus was a significant confidence building measure, however the effect of the bus is limited and does not address the problem of maximum number of divided families in the Jammu region and Kargil. There is underlying resentment in some that the peace process is Kashmir-centric and enough attention is not given to the concerns and grievances of other regions. The dialogue brought forth the fact that the Kashmir dispute has cultural, geographical, sub-national and regional dimensions and has become combination of conflicting aspirations. So far those living in the regions of Gilgit and Baltistan were thrown into the category of the Northern Areas of Pakistan. With President Pervez Musharraf having openly talked about the different regions of Kashmir, those living in Gilgit and Baltistan have now become more emboldened to talk about their rights. One suggestion from the dialogue was that until the Kargil-Skardu route is opened and people from Gilgit and Baltistan given access to the permit system for the Srinagar-Muzzafarabad bus service, there could be no positive outcome. There are six to seven thousand divided families between Kargil and Baltistan. People need to be made aware of what does softening of LOC really mean? When asked about their views, those from Gilgit and Baltistan categorically stated that there were no training camps in their areas and those that existed earlier had been closed down. They felt that Pakistan has done a lot to contain militancy and there is perceptible change in the mood and deeds of Mushrraf regime. It is high time that New Delhi reciprocated with some concrete steps that may change ground situation in the valley. This will encourage Islamabad to go further. Participants said that significant number of Kashmiri boys who went across the LOC were involved in militant activities. According to estimates their number is around 2,000. The participants said that these boys are today lonely, disturbed and feel betrayed by Pakistan's new policy on Kashmir. In the new circumstance, however, a reasonable number of them wish to come back home to lead a normal and peaceful life. Offers of amnesty may be helpful in persuading these boys for their return to normal life and, in turn, increase the prospect of cease-fire in the valley. This suggestion could be further explored and pursued through different channels.