November 2005 News

Conflict In Gilgit

14 November 2005
The News International
Amjad Bashir Siddiqi

Islamabad: Gilgit is once again in the news for the wrong reason at a wrong time. Trouble has been brewing in this area for quite sometime but ever since March, all hell appears to have been let lose as tension between the locals and non-locals took a turn for the worse. Gilgit appears to be another laboratory where the government is experimenting various methods of govern and rule. The local people are denied participation in the decision making process and attempts have been made to change the regional demography resulting in hostilities between the locals and the planted Pashtun and Kashmiri segments of the population. This remains to be the root cause of the upset being witnessed in its many different manifestations in the area today. The murder of IG Police Northern Areas, Sakhiullah Tareen on March 23, 2005, the killing of Rangers' personnel along with civilians on October 13 and the sectarian strife are all the different manifestations of the local vs. non-local confrontation. The local sects enjoyed a peaceful coexistence for many years. Things turned nasty with the 'outsider' Pashtuns, Kashmiri and the jihadi elements coming into play in the area. This demographic struggle takes on another appearance in the form of destruction of each others' business entities on the Karakoram Highway that leads up to the Khunjerab Pass and has a direct bearing on the trade from China. The tragedy of the administration is that it suffers from a total lack of trust from those living in the area. None of the top officers in police, administration or the government are locals. The locals are good Pakistanis as are the officers posted there.In fact, they have the added distinction of 'liberating' the Northern Areas from the Dogra Raj and joining Pakistan, while others were mostly either born on this side of the new borders or had migrated. What other credentials are required for being a good Pakistani than being among those who fell for the country in large numbers during the Kargil conflict? The brave sons of the Northern Areas constituted the Northern Light Infantry which lead the campaign and won gallantry awards against India. In fact two were awarded Nishan-e-Hyder during the military campaign. In the Northern Areas and the Kashmir region, the deputy commissioner is from Punjab, the home secretary is from the NWFP, DIGs and the IG from Sindh and Punjab, while, the chief secretary also hails from Sindh. The PSP-DMG officials with local background are denied postings into the senior cadres of the decision-making hierarchy despite strong professional credentials. The people of the Northern Areas constitute senior bureaucracy, police and army but they have not been found fit to serve in the home region. One example is that of a senior Punjab bureaucrat G M Sikandar who is from Baltistan. It is a pity that they can serve anywhere in the country except their own area. Besides, there are three officers of NA Police who are awaiting promotion to grade 19-20. Also, the Police Order 2002, which was enforced in rest of the country, is yet to be extended to the Northern Areas and the law enforcement machinery works under the draconian Police Act of 1861. The reason for this defies any logic. Besides, there is another tradition of the KANA administration that denies the locals from commanding any deployed paramilitary force. Besides the NA Scouts and Northern Light Infantry, which though have a presence in the region and its rank and file is constituted by the locals, have hardly been deployed to ensure law and order in the region. Whenever there is trouble contingents of rangers from Punjab and Sindh as well as Frontier Constabulary from NWFP are rushed to manage the situation. This attitude is not limited to officials of the law enforcement agencies and the general administration, but is also meted out to the Legislative Council, which is the equivalent to the provincial assemblies in the rest of the country. The Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC) has hardly any powers of legislation and its members are treated with contempt. In one instance, during an introductory meeting with a group of members of NALC, the previous chief secretary reportedly abused them and told to behave. People are genuinely troubled and there is general resentment against the 'outside rule'. The Rangers' trigger-happy approach on October 13 was seen as a display of 'colonial power' and detested by local shias, sunnis, Ismailis and Nurbakhshis alike. The federal minister KANA, who is also the chief executive northern areas, is generally an outsider as compared to other provinces where a local is always the chief executive. And only the deputy chief happens to be a native who doesn't enjoy many powers. The army monitoring teams continue to work in this area while they have been abolished from the rest of the country. These teams exercise control over transfers, postings and promotions of all government officials transgressing the powers of the department heads. Unlike other parts of the country, where ethnic and sectarian sensitivities of any area are respected while selecting the officer corps from a purely 'administrative point of view', that does not seem to be happening in this region. As a principle, ethnic and sectarian mix in the administration helps to neutralise resentments and build confidence among the local population. Pakistan has in the past suffered from the 'same' disregard for inducting locals into the higher echelons of the administration and establishment and sending non-residents as 'colonialists'. East Pakistan and Karachi are prime examples of this kind of attitude. While this realisation came late in the day for Karachi, we had to lose East Pakistan to this 'wisdom' and now things in the Northern Areas should now be prevented from attaining the same level of alienation and frustration. Grafting population as insurance in sensitive areas is a futile exercise, which only serves to alienate the local population and fuel rifts as is being witnessed now. It is against this backdrop, that nationalist groups like the Balwaristan National Movement have become active to air the grievances of the residents of the area and the mainstream political parties have lost appeal due to a partyless atmosphere. Balwaristan National Movement has written letters to the U.N. complaining of difficult situation prevailing in the region. The situation is drawing attention from New Delhi, which has launched one of its most virulent propaganda on its media. The ethnic-cum-sectarian strife prevailing in the area can only be resolved by bringing more natives and residents into the decision making hierarchy from the level of chief executive to the senior tiers of management of law enforcement and letting the legislative council function freely. If the locals are fit to die for the country, they should also be fit to decide for themselves.


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