The Human Rights Problem in Gilgit-Baltistan

Paul Beersmans

28 June 2008

Since partition of the Indian sub-continent, in 1947, and the coming into being of Pakistan the democratic and political freedom and the Human Rights situation in Gilgit-Baltistan is very bad and the population has been suffering. Since the recent installation of emergency by General/President Musharraf this situation aggravated even more.

INTRODUCTION

The least that can be said is that the Human Rights situation in Pakistan is far from ideal. Throughout its history, since obtaining independence from the British rule in August 1947, this country was many times ruled by military dictators.

The latest in the row of military dictators is General Musharraf who ousted in 1999 the then democratically elected Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif. Since, he is ruling the country with an iron fist and through all kinds of undemocratic manipulations he succeeded in becoming President of Pakistan.

DENIAL OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS TO THE PEOPLE OF GILGIT-BALTISTAN ALSO KNOWN AS THE NORTHERN AREAS

Gilgit-Baltistan is a part of Jammu and Kashmir. The area is of strategic importance as it has borders with Afghanistan and China.

Since partition of the Indian sub-continent, in 1947, and the coming into being of Pakistan the democratic and political freedom and the Human Rights situation in Gilgit-Baltistan is very bad and the population has been suffering. Since the recent installation of emergency by General/President Musharraf this situation aggravated even more.

Human Rights organisations in Pakistan itself have been raising voices against the inhuman treatment meted out to the people of this region by the Pakistani Administration. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan calls the situation as volatile and is of the opinion that the Federal Government is directly responsible for this sorry state of affairs. Pakistani policymakers have kept the constitutional status of the area in a limbo, making the region an extraordinary example of political and judicial ambivalence. 2

The unrest in Gilgit-Baltistan has been there for decades, leading to movements for self-governance and independence from the federal rule of Pakistan. In 2007, the clashes have claimed about 200 lives so far.

The region lacks fundamental rights infrastructure. According to the well known American Human Rights organisation Freedom House, this region has been categorised 'Not Free'. It does not have a democratically elected assembly, a constitution or an independent judiciary. It is ruled directly by the Federal Government in Islamabad through the Ministry for Kashmir and Northern Areas Affairs.

There is no appeal against the judgements of the Judicial Commissioner. Pakistan's Supreme Court has no jurisdiction on the area. The Government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, the adjoining area also under Pakistani administration and also being a part of Jammu and Kashmir, too doesn't have any jurisdiction over Gilgit-Baltistan. Access to justice to all is a fundamental right, and that right cannot be exercised in the absence of an independent judiciary. Without formation of a High Court and a bench of the Supreme Court in the region, access to justice will remain an elusive dream.

Pakistan never claimed Gilgit-Baltistan as belonging to its territory. The constitution of Pakistan and its map don't show it as belonging to Pakistan. On the other hand it does not show it as a part of Jammu and Kashmir either. At the same time Pakistan is not prepared to give it an independent status or to enable its people to adopt a modern, transparent democratic system. They are closely watched by the different 'security agencies' operating in Gilgit-Baltistan: ISI (Inter Services Intelligence), IB (Intelligence Bureau), FIU (Field Intelligence Unit), MI (Military Intelligence), etc. Foreigners and journalists are 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 doesn't have basic infrastructure like roads, power supply, sanitation and health care. It has no university, no professional college, no post-graduate facilities. No radio, no television station. There is just one weekly newspaper.

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% to 35% less than those coming from outside.

The crux of the problem is that the region is a Shia dominated area. Pakistan has always treated them as suspects. Demographic shifts are being engineered, with an aggressive policy of resettlement by encouraging influx of Punjabis, Pathans and other Sunni people from the rest of Pakistan.. Large tracts of land are being allotted to outsiders, who are liberally provided residency permits. 3

Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne, Member of the European Parliament and Vice Chairperson of the European Union Committee on Foreign Affairs, writes in her report (adopted by the European Parliament during the plenary session of 24 May 2007, Final A6-0158/2007. The full text of the report can be consulted on http://europa.eu ):

- Pakistan still lacks full implementation of democracy in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and has yet to take steps towards democracy in Gilgit-Baltistan (page 6/24);

- Is concerned that the Gilgit-Baltistan region enjoys no form of democratic representation whatsoever (page 8/24);

- The people of Gilgit-Baltistan are under direct rule of the military and enjoy no democracy (page 9/24);

- Calls on Pakistan to hold elections for the first time in Gilgit-Baltistan (page 9/24);

- Deplores documented Human Rights violations by Pakistan including in Gilgit-Baltistan, where allegedly violent riots took place in 2004, and the all too frequent incidents of terror and violence perpetrated by armed militant groups; urges Pakistan to revisit its concepts of the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of religious practice in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan (page 11/24);

- Calls on the Government of Pakistan to specifically address the issue of children's rights and protection in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan and to target child trafficking more effectively (page 14/24);

- Draws particular attention to the democratic deficit in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, where, regrettably, Pakistan has consistently failed to fulfil its obligations to introduce meaningful and representative democratic structures (page 20/24);

- Bad as the situation is in Azad Jammu and Kashmir, it is infinitely worse in Gilgit-Baltistan, the northernmost area of Pakistan-Administered Kashmir, which enjoys no status or even the semblance of democratic representation (page 21/24);

- Gilgit-Baltistan (referred to as the Northern Areas by Pakistan) is administered by Pakistan. As Pakistan maintains that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is disputed territory, it has not formally incorporated the Northern Areas. As such, it is neither a province of Pakistan nor a part of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The Northern Areas Council, set up some time ago, with the boast that it is functioning like a 'Provincial Assembly', screens, in reality, a total absence of constitutional identity or civil rights (page 21/24);

- The people of Gilgit-Baltistan are kept in poverty, illiteracy and backwardness. The deprivation and lack of even very basic needs provision can be easily seen…. A few locals are able to secure government jobs but even then they are paid up to 35% less than non-native employees; there is no local broadcast media (page 21/24);

- The 2005 earthquake, disastrous in itself, exacerbated all the above. It would be wholly irresponsible not to draw attention to this situation or to highlight these continuing injustices, and the report therefore underlines forcefully the need for Pakistan to revisit its concept of democratic accountability and to address the needs provision issue in the areas under its (de facto) control (page 21/24).

4

JIHADI FUNDAMENTALISM AND ITS IMPACT ON HUMAN RIGHTS

Since military dictatorship was imposed in 1999, it became clear that jihadi infrastructure was not dismantled nor were moderate political parties allowed to push back against fundamentalists in the political arena. While claiming to fight extremism, the military was using its forces in Baluchistan denying the anti-Taliban, secular Baluch parties their constitutional rights.

Secular parties have been excluded from the tribal areas, which have been increasingly overrun by jihadis resulting in a complete mismanagement in Baluchistan and North-West Frontier Province. Ironically the policy has been to clamp down on the press and the judiciary to curb terrorism but in fact those who have been arrested are progressive, secular minded people while the terrorists are offered negotiations and ceasefires. As the military was filling the jails with lawyers and journalists, they were releasing militants, some of whom had been convicted of terrorism, in yet another deal with violent extremists. Pakistan also refused to close Taliban camps and jihadi madrasas or end extremist recruitment and fundraising.

Pakistan has become a safe haven for terrorists. It has everything terrorists could ask for: political instability, a trusted network of radial Islamists, an abundance of angry anti-Western recruits, secluded training areas and security services that don't always do what they are supposed to do. Terrorists and armed militants have turned much of the country, including some cities, into a base that gives them more room to maneuver, both internally and beyond. They come and go as they please inside Pakistan. They attend services at local mosques, where after prayers they speak to the congregation, soliciting donations to support the war against the West. Their sick and injured are taken care off in private hospitals. Guns and supplies are readily available.

STATE SPONSOR OF TERRORISM AND IMPACT OF SUCH POLICIES ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN AZAD JAMMU AND KASHMIR

In Azad Jammu and Kashmir the socio-political and cultural landscape of the region has been adversely affected since it has been the epicentre of the Kashmir jihad for a long time. Terrorist jihadi organisations engaged in violence in the Indian Jammu and Kashmir State have camps and offices in Muzaffarabad, the capital, and elsewhere in Azad Kashmir. They mainly owe their existence to Inter Services Intelligence (Pakistan's military intelligence agency) support. Fundamental freedoms, such as the freedom of movement, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association are often infringed under various pretences. Creation of independent media are being prevented through bureaucratic restrictions and coercion. The people in Azad Kashmir have lost not only their fundamental rights, but all rights whatsoever. This exploitation continues, although there is an increasing awareness among the people today, and occasional voices of protest can now be heard. 5

CONCLUSIONS

Asma Jahangir, special UN rapporteur on Human Rights, appeals to the friends of Pakistan to urge the US Administration to stop all support of the instable dictator, as his lust for power is bringing the country close to a worse form of civil strife. She believes that Musharraf has to be taken out of the equation and a government of national reconciliation to be put in place. It must be backed by the military. Short of this there are no realistic solutions.

Military training, cooperation and aid should be reviewed. At the same time aid for education, poverty reduction, healthcare and relief work should be expanded, channelling money through secular non-governmental organisations (NGOs)

Successive Pakistani governments, which call for 'basic Human Rights' in the Indian Jammu and Kashmir State, ignore these very rights in the case of the Northern Areas and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

Militants, fundamentalists and even the Government of Pakistan have argued that in the Kashmir case, the special concept of jihad or holy war applies, which supersedes all international humanitarian law but in a world of myriad religions and ways of life, no one religious interpretation can substitute for internationally accepted standards and law.

Democracy is not only more acceptable than military rule, but would reduce the influence of fundamentalist Islamists significantly. Speak out unequivocally for democracy in Pakistan, rejecting the idea that martial law is needed for stability, and demand a return to constitutional order. What are needed are political solutions to conflicts and improved long-term security. Non of this will be easy to implement but it offers more hope than more of the same. Pakistan needs change: it can only begin when military dictatorship goes and democracy returns.

Written by Paul Beersmans

President of the Belgian Association for Solidarity with Jammu and Kashmir - website: http://basjak.org e-mail: info@basjak.org

Associate Director of the International Movement for Fraternal Union among Races and Peoples, an Association with Special Consultative Status with United Nations Economic and Social Council

Captain-Commander (Retd), Former United Nations Observer with United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP)


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