November 2005 News

India's Concern Over Gilgit

4 November 2005
The Daily Excelsior
Samuel Baid

Jammu: India has at last broken its 56-year old silence over the plight of the people in the northern part of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK). Gilgit-Baltistan or Balwaristan, as locals calls this region, has been in the grip of a bloody confrontation between Shia students and Rangers since October 13. This confrontation claimed 13 lives in two days. Whenever the local people become violent in their protests against their condition of serfs sans any rights, authorities punish them with long spells of curfew to starve them within their houses. This time the curfew was partially lifted after 11 days. The situation is still very tense. New Delhi felt provoked this time. A Spokesman of the External Affairs Ministry commented on this situation and expressed the hope that the Pakistani forces would act with the utmost restraint and observe international human rights standards. Perhaps to emphasise that it was not an off-the-cuff remark occasioned by journalists' questions, he said the Government of India would keep a watch on the situation. Pakistan has divided occupied Kashmir in two parts. One it has misnamed Azad Kashmir and the Gilgit-Baltistan territory it calls Northern Areas. The problem of Gilgit-Baltistan or Balwaristan has two layers - political and sectarian. The political problem started in 1947 when Gilgit Scouts, inspired by their British bosses, revolted against Maharaja Hari Singh's Governor Brig. Gansara Singh and handed over the administration of this territory to Karachi (then the Federal capital of Pakistan). The locals established 'People's Republic of Gilgit and Baltistan'. But that was only a 17 days wonder. When Pakistan took over the administration of this territory it demolished this Republic by appointing its own agent to govern it and revived the black laws called 'Frontier Crimes Regulations' (FCR). These Regulations were made by the British when they had this territory on lease from Maharaja Hari Singh. Under these Regulations, the local population had no civil rights and any political activity was considered as an unparadonable crime. This law was clearly meant to dehumanise the local people so they did not obstruct their activities of watching the communist movement in Russia. The Pakistan Government considered itself the successor of British in Gilgit - Baltistan and banned political activities. Political parties from 'Azad' Kashmir were told not to extend their activities to Gilgit Baltistan. The Pakistani control over Gilgit-Baltistan was sought to be given some legal respectability when Karachi signed an agreement with the leaders of the Muslim Conference (MC) a protege of the Pakistan Government in April 1949. But ironically, the MC was itself kept out of Northern Areas. The following year the agent was replaced. Now the control was given to the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. Since then a number of so- called reforms have been announced in Gilgit-Baltistan but none of them has addressed their basic problems. Their basic problem remains: they have no constitutional identity; they have no civil rights and no economic rights. There is no concept of human rights. For the past 56 years, they have existed without a national status. When it is convenient Pakistan calls Gilgit-Baltistan as its Northern Areas, but when courts ask why the people of this territory are not given equal rights when the people of Pakistan, pat comes the reply that they are not our people. True, the Pakistani constitution does not include Gilgit-Baltistan in its territories nor the Atlas of Pakistan shows it as its territory yet Pakistani laws and taxes are extended to it. The 24-member Northern Areas Council is more like a lollypop than a true legislative body. Members cannot boldly air the problems of their constituencies nor can they make laws. The Chief Executive of the Northern Areas continue to be the Pakistani Minister of Kashmir Affairs. He is also the Chairman of the Northern Areas Council. One, therefore, can imagine what free and frank debates can take place in the House. Since 1950 the people of the Gilgit - Baltistan have been demanding civil rights, rights to education, health, civic amenities and to their own natural wealth. These demands were always put down with the heavy hand. General Zia-ul-Haq thought of a mischievous plan to weaken the strength of these people by stage-managing anti-Shia riots to wean away Sunni population from them. The year 1988 saw widespread anti-Shia bloody riots in which armed hordes of extremist Sunnis from NWFP and other parts of Pakistan participated. Sunnis were also encouraged to settle down in Gilgit-Baltistan to offset the Shia population. It may be recalled here that within Pakistan, too, Zia had blessed anti-Shia Sunni organizations like the Sipah-i-Sahaba which has been responsible for much sectarian bloodshed in Pakistan and PoK. Today political, administrative and economic power in Northern Areas is in the hands of Sunnis from Pakistan though Shias continue to be in majority. They survive by working for Pakistani settlers. Their young boys go to Karachi to take up menial jobs. Security forces deployed here mainly consist of Sunnis whom Shia population does not trust. Before October 13 there had been many demonstrations against Rangers. The locals want Rangers to be withdrawn from Gilgit-baltistan. Rangers look the other side when Shias are attacked by Sunnis extremists. The cause of the present conflict is the assassination of a Shia religious leader Agha Ziauddin Rizvi and 18 other Shias in January this year. According to Ahsan Wali Khan, a local journalist, fatalities since then have corssed 100 in these areas. The world, including India, have too long ignored the cries from Gilgit-baltistan despite their leaders' pleas every year at the UN Human Rights Commission's meetings.


Return to the Archives 2005 Index Page

Return to Home Page