The Quest for Identity

Mumtaz Khan
1 December 2005

Toronto: The struggle of People of Gilgit baltistan in search of identity hasn't received much attention and importance in Kashmir controversy. Their quest for identity has just begun to emerge since it has undergone and witnessed different phases and situations than rest of Kashmir as they continue to be victim of Pakistan policies of constitutional ambiguities that surround the area, people and its status since it took control of the Area. The voices to air their grievances and seeking an end of constitutional limbo has drawn adverse response from the Islamabad authorities who instead of addressing their grievances engineering political and sectarian riots to divert the attention of real issues that need greater attention and immediate remedy.

As a result of government policies of political, economical discrimination and injustices inflicted upon the people of Gilgit Baltistan for last 58 years has given new dimension to their politics of rights movement that has entered into the phase of seeking distinct political identity than Pakistan and Kashmiri's. These were the people who were earlier aspired to become fifth province of Pakistan and they were making the demands to be declared as Province. But government's continuous disregard to their political status and fundamental rights has turned this demand into nationalist voices. The mishandling of political voices by the Islamabad has further escalated their existing grievances and deepened the roots of ongoing injustices. Government's old gimmicks to portray every political opponent as anti-Pakistan and unpatriotic didn't spare the activists of Gilgit Baltistan against whom fabricated sedition cases were framed to suppress their political voice. But apparently such efforts failed to bear any fruits or to stop people them from demanding and talking about their fundamental rights and constitutional status.

They question how an area of 4,500 sq miles of Azad Kashmir and its inhabitants received attention and treatment better than the area of 28,000 sq miles and its inhabitants? And they are disregarded and made to suffer through the unjust political, economical and judiciary system which is imposed in this Area for last six decades. This 45,000 sq miles area of Azad Kashmir was decorated with all its dummy administrative Institutions like Legislative Assembly, Supreme court and PM and President as a showcase for external political consumption. The Northern Areas according to UNCIP resolutions is disputed part of state Jammu and Kashmir to which Constitution of Pakistan also declares disputed. As controversy continuously surrounds the area and fate of people's demand for their rights since Pakistan government is not willing to make any political change in the status of the people only to politicize its demand to implement UNCIP resolutions. As constitutionally Pakistan has not declared the Area its part as if it is not in violation of UN resolutions but practically it is sheer violation when political rights and freedoms of the people are not granted and respected what under the UNCIP resolution Pakistan had pledged to ensure.

Northern Areas were put under direct control of Pakistan very next day of its liberation but latter to legitimize its direct control government of Pakistan signed a dubious Karachi Agreement of April 1949 with Azad Kashmir government which was signed by the then Azad Kashmir President Sardar Ibrahim Khan and Choudhry Ghulam Abbas as President of Muslim Conference. However, Sardar Ibrahim refused many times publicly that he didn't sign the Agreement. Interesting enough there was no person from Gilgit Baltistan was party or signatory to it neither Azad Kashmir government had any representation from Gilgit Baltistan in its government nor constitutionally it was empowered to represent the Gilgit Baltsitan. But if Agreement to separate it from rest of Azad Kashmir meant to benefit the inhabitants one could have defended such acts but as latter Pakistan government's course of actions have proved that agreement pushed the people behind the status they what they had during Maharajah time. It has heralded another era of their dark days after the end of Maharajah rule which local people had liberated by fighting relentlessly, and had enthusiastically joined Pakistan envisaging that era of economic and political injustices was over. But they were not aware that separation of Gilgit Baltistan would usher another long era of political and economical injustices.

One can probably plea that partition's chaos and disorder had not permitted enough time to then authorities to address the political and constitutional issues if had been resolved or addressed at the latter stage or after few years. But case was not so as decades to come has witnessed this continued denial of their fundamental rights, and constitutional limbo people are facing yet. One can ask the Islamabad what has prevented them to offer them their constitutional rights and status to the people of Gilgit Baltistan what they have accorded to only 4500 SQ Miles Azad Kashmir. How other factors have not halted their initiatives to define the status of Azad Kashmir. The constitution of Pakistan itself says that Gilgit Baltistan is disputed territory and cannot be declared its constitutional part unless issue is resolved. But it does not say that people should suffer because of their disputed status and if disputed status has not harmed political and fundamental rights people of Azad Kashmir why only such discriminatory treatment is being meted out only people of northern Areas. If Islamabad legally was not in position to declare Area its Province or any other future political reason wanted to separate it from Azad Kashmir what had stopped them to make same type of political administrative arrangements as they had made for Azad Kashmir. there was no political or constitutional hindrance in making such arrangements to secure people's basic rights and freedoms from being violated in the absence of political and legal frame work which is continuously haunting people till today.

No one can question the loyalty and integrity of these people who despite decades of ongoing political and economical discrimination and denial of rights they have not rebelled like people in Indian controlled Kashmir did where there economic and constitutional rights were not denied like people of Northern Areas. They have chosen to approach Pakistan's superior court to seek end of continued denial of the rights. And superior court of Pakistan's in its judgment recognized the political and constitutional injustices were meted out to these people under the cloak of disputed status and it had directed the government to restore their fundamental rights and define their constitutional status. But even superior court's judgment has failed to change the destiny of these people or moved to government to restore people's basic rights.

Decades of continued misrule has created widespread political discontent among the educated youth and people who are critical to Pakistan's policies of disregarding their political and economic rights. The continued sectarian crisis in Gilgit Baltsiatn that created deep division between Shia majority community and Sunni, those largely receive support from NWFP, is believed to be engineered by the government intelligence agencies to weaken the political and nationalist voices for their rights movement. The controversy regarding the status and rights is going to be continuing feature as long as government takes some realistic initiatives to address the issue. The political rights issue in Pakistan is weakening its stance and voice for Kashmiri right to self-determination or human rights violations in Indian controlled Kashmir since it has failed to deliver to its controlled part Gilgit Baltistan.

Pakistan government has created a toothless NALC to neutralize the criticism to its policies but again under the guardianship of KNA minister that solely exercises and enjoys powers, and making whole of exercise futile and impotent by keeping indigenous people and members out of power practically. While people's growing sense of alienation with Pakistan government's policies, and NALC members dissatisfaction with the present political arrangements shouldn't dismiss or undermine the intensity of it by the Pakistan government authorities. The people are continuing to be misruled through NALC and absence of constitutional status and basic rights further aggravates the situation.

It is time that Islamabad should revisit to question of identity of people of Gilgit Baltistan before it gets too late. As in single man ruled system though such things do not ring the bells in government circles since they do not believe in expressed politics and largely they rely to quell such issues through brutal force be it Gilgit Baltistan or Baluchistan. But historical events do not support the idea of dealing by use of brutal force as it ultimately breeds hatred and alienation. And broadly speaking it is not only weakens its moral position abroad but internally it equally erodes moral credibility of Pakistan among the people of disputed parts when it advocates or pleads their right to self-determination. Such voices are coming from Azad Kashmir which ostensibly purported as Free Kashmir but yet controls by Pakistan's lent officers like Chief Secretary, IG police, secretary finance and on the top GOC Muree. It is not even pleasant experience in Azad Kashmir where on the one hand Islamabad is trying to establish its credibility by calling it free part and advocates right to self-determination but on the other hand it imposes constitutional and political restraints on the people those are seeking official jobs or wish to contest the election unless they sign the pre-determined ideology of "State's accession with Pakistan". The quest for the right to self-determination weakens its posture when comes its controlled parts where people in one part Gilgit Baltistan still do not have political rights and freedoms, and in other part Azad Kashmir do not allow any other political opinion to be part of electoral process. Pakistan has to have single standard in order to establish moral credibility of its claims by practicing in its controlled parts and lifting or removing such restraints and bans by allowing other school of opinion to co-exist.

Mumtaz khan
Vice Chair International Kashmir Alliance