December 2005 News

Unrest In Northern Areas

16 December 2005
The Daily Excelsior
Sarla Handoo

Jammu: It has taken the world more than 58 years to wake up to the atrocities the people of Gilgit and Baltistan, popularly known as the Northern Areas of Pakistan, have been suffering. But, as they say, better late than never. It is the Human Rights organizations in Pakistan itself that have now been raising voices against the inhuman treatment meted out to people of this region by the Pakistan Administration. The Human rights Commission of Pakistan sought an immediate cease-fire by Pak Rangers engaged in clashes with the people to curb popular unrest. It called the situation as 'volatile'. Pakistani News paper 'Dawn' quoted the Commission as asking for immediate cease-fire and also an inquiry by an independent judicial Commission. Yet another Pakistan paper 'Daily Times' quoted the Commission Secretary General Iqbal Haider as saying, 'the federal government is directly responsible for this sorry state of affairs'. The unrest in the picturesque Northern most area of Pakistan has been there for decades, leading to movements for self-governance and independence from the federal rule of Pakistan. This year alone the clashes have claimed about 200 lives so far. Northern Areas are also known as Balwaristan, which was a part of Jammu and Kashmir till October 1947 and was ruled by what was known as the Gilgit Agency. But Pakistan, in the wake of its aggression on Jammu and Kashmir, soon after the Maharaja Hari Singh decided to join India after the partition, annexed the northern Areas as also parts of Jammu and Kashmir now in its occupation. But over 11 lakh population of the area have been suffering ever since. It is interesting to know the depths of the Pakistani misrule in the area. The region lacks fundamental rights infrastructure. It does not have an elected Assembly, a constitution or an independent Judiciary. It is ruled directly by the Federal government in Islamabad by minister of state for Kashmir and Northern Areas Affairs with the help of 6 officers, all from outside, constituting the Northern Areas Council. It includes the Chief Executive Officer, the Inspector General of Police and the Judicial Commissioner. There is no appeal against the judgements of the Judicial Commissioner. The Pakistan Supreme Court has no jurisdiction on the area. The so-called Azad Kashmir government too does not have any jurisdiction over the Northern areas. To be fair to Pakistan, it has never claimed Northern Areas as belonging to it. In fact, Pakistan constitution and its map do not show it as Pak area. Pakistan has said so even in the courts. But it does not show it as a part of Jammu and Kashmir either. At the same time it is not prepared to give it an independent status also to enable its people to adopt a modern, transparent democratic system. The people have been living under virtual Martial Law with foreigners and journalists forbidden to visit the area. There is no representation of the people in the Pakistan National Assembly. The locals need an exit permit for moving out of the area. Economically, the region is the most backward area. It does not have basic infrastructure like roads, power supply, sanitation and health care. It has no University, no professional college and no post graduate facilities. No radio and a television station. It has Just one weekly newspaper. The crux of the problem is that the region is a Shia dominated area and Pakistan has always treated them as suspects. There are conscious efforts to change the demography of the region by encouraging influx of Punjabis' Pathans and other Sunni people from rest of Pakistan. The first anti-Shia wave surfaced in 1988 when open clashes took place between the Shias and Pakistani Army. It resulted in deep scars in the psyche of the Shia population. It resurfaced in 1993 with sectarian riots in Gilgit. The Kargil incursions aggravated the situation as 70 percent of the causalities took place from the Northern Light Infantry of the Pakistan Army. On top of it, Pakistan refused to take the bodies of the jawans from India while it gave official funeral to the Punjabi army jawans killed during the Kargil conflict. Open discrimination in the matter of wages between the natives and those coming from outside is a blatant violation of human rights. The locals are paid 25% less than those coming from outside. The area is of strategic importance as it has borders with Afghanistan and China. In fact Pakistan has ceded a part of the area to China on which China has constructed the Korkaram highway. It is not just for nothing therefore that India has voiced its concern for the situation in Gilgit and Baltistan. It wants Pakistan to ensure minimum Human rights standards in the area, rather than crying for such rights in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan must put an end to the feudal society it has created in the region at the earliest.


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