In the land of Gilgit-Baltistan at least six major languages (dialects) are spoken and as many cultures and ethnicities exist, three distinct sectarians groups practice their respective interpretation of Islam. But this whole region shares a beautiful landscape of terraced fields, high-mountains, and clean glacier water. Most people practice some form of agriculture and their beautiful orchards and wheat and potato fields are fed by these glacial waters.
More than that the people inhibiting this region have a common memory of gaining independence from the Dogra Raj on November the 1st 1949. These diverse people who also proudly claim distinct cultural heritages, however, find unity in many important dimensions of their respective cultures such as the commonality of musical instruments and their tunes, and unique methods of dance. These people can also be uniformly identified from their headgear the Farzin and the long coat Shoqa, and of course in their food.
Today, these important origins of cultural unity are auspiciously overshadowed by a plethora of common problems. These are issues of poverty, education and access to primary health care. Still, perhaps more importantly, the people of Giligit-Baltistan can be singled out for their common attitude and frame of mind. Weather it is a spell-binding pleasant smile of a young boy in Phander valley to a foreign or a local tourists alike, or whether it is an attempt to start an English primary school in Shimshall, or an endeavour to establish a small health centre in the Hoper village of Nagar, or a meeting of a youth group in Kashrote to demand constitutional rights these desparate people are united by a common desire to attack the problems they have been facing over the last sixty years. To seek a solution to end poverty, to think about getting education in the hope of landing a respectable job, these are the goal-posts of Balti, Burushaski, Khowar, Shina and Wakhi speaking people of Northern Pakistan. They are united in their aspirations, their hopes, their fears, and above all in their sense of a common destiny.
Ironically, this destiny and hope of a peaceful, harmonious, tourist-friendly, serene, and a progressive Giligit-Baltistan has been frustrated by a variety of factors. These retrogressive processes include violent conflict along sectarian lines, lack of mature and ‘clean’ political leadership, and a pathetic deficiency of commitment and interest by the bureaucracy and the central government. The people of Giligit-Baltistan can only hope to recapture their long-cherished hopes and aspirations through a sustainable will to unite. They should patch-up their rifts because these differences can only serve to weaken our political, social and economic ambitions. Only through unity we can gain strength because united we stand and divided we fall.
The contributor is a student of London School of Economics.