Six and a half decades are not a very long period in people’s collective life. But, if the people are deprived of their basic identity and still there is no clue of what is next, then, indeed, it is a long period. If this period is characterized by those people’s unilateral perception of being part of a nation, and based on this perception not only remain loyal to that nation, but also extend unconditional love in form of sacrifices both in human and material terms, then this period is a dark period. If the people, in the hope of the nation’s equal treatment as being part and parcel, do not stand up and speak up for their fundamental rights, and keep on waiting ignoring their own sense of deprivation, then this period is a self-deception period. If the nation on its part, does not feel the same as those people, does not pay attention to the question of basic human rights, does not have care for what those people think and does not have fear for what the people will react in the long run, then it is a colonial period. If it looks that the nation wants the area of those people due to its geopolitical importance and keeps holding it irrespective of its oblivious attitude towards the people, then it is an occupational period. If 65 years have witnessed all this, then indeed it is an unparalleled period.
The people of Gilgit-Baltistan, around two million in population and stretching over an area of 72,496 km2, have been celebrating their independence day on November 1st every year for the last 65 years. The celebration is notwithstanding the fact that this independence has not yet delivered them basic rights, thus the celebration of independence each year has been coupled with a sense of deprivation. This deprivation has not only diverted the journey forward to reverse on many fronts and slowed down the socio-economic development but also posed the people to the enigma of identity crisis. This identity crisis entails that being part of a nation is not justified by the fact that the people have identity cards, passports and currency of that nation, rather it is justified by the fact that they have a say in the national matters, and in the matters which affect them.
Without going into historical context; which is of course, marked by innumerous ebbs and flows of events shaping the history of the region, and the provisions of fundamental human rights nationally and internationally; which are parts of several international conventions and treaties as well as the constitution of Pakistan, let’s look at current situation.
Gilgit-Baltistan is perceived to be the part of Pakistan and administratively it is under the government of Pakistan. But when it comes to the fundamental right to vote and representation in national legislature, the question of disputed territory comes in. One aspect of the notion of disputed territory calls it to be part of Kashmir. Well, if it is part of Kashmir, in current situation, it should have been part of either side of Kashmir. It is obvious that the part of Kashmir, held by India, has access to all the rights under the constitution of India. Second part of Kashmir has its own government for the last 65 years. Both parts of Kashmir are enjoying their rights and GB has never been their concern. In this situation GB should have had its own government, which would have been legitimate given the situation on both sides of Kashmir. Some of the nationalist parties in the region have been advocating for this pattern with varying point of views on its demographics and historical perspectives.
On the other hand, the area’s accession to Pakistan has been voluntarily on the part of the people but seems coercively on the part of successive Pakistani governments, who did not pay attention to the human rights dimension of this issue. The affiliation with Pakistan should have led to a feeling of mutual inclusiveness but it is strange enough calling yourself part of a nation and being denied of what is your due right, being controlled administratively but not being given representation in national legislative bodies through political and electoral processes. Yes, there is a local legislative body which has evolved through different packages but that is not enough and rather it is far from being enough. Being part of Pakistan can be justified through representation of GB in the Pakistani legislative bodies through free and fair electoral process, which was never considered let alone exercising it. If this was done in past, by now there would have been much change in terms of political maturity, sectarian harmony, development activities, good governance and effective judiciary and administrative systems. Many issues prevalent in GB, are direct or indirect result of the deprivation of the people. It is also surprising that the civil society in Pakistan and media paid little or no attention to this issue. Vibrant civil society and the free media; which have raised their voice and concern on many human rights related issues, did not highlight this issue, due to which it did not or could not become a focus of attention as a matter of human rights.
Gilgit-Baltistan is perhaps one of the fever unique situations in terms of access to basic human rights. It is true that apart from the negligence of governments whether military or civil, the leadership from Gilgit-Balistan could not play an active role on this front in past. However, it is encouraging to see that currently there is realization in some segments of the political leadership, media, youth and civil society in Gilgit-Baltistan. It is obvious that the more this situation is drawn longer, the more complex it will be. In the context of the situation in Pakistan, the changing scenario in different parts of the world, in the face of current realities of Gilgit-Baltistan and the rising concern of the people and especially of the youth, it is high time for the government of Pakistan to take necessary steps to pave the way for fundamental rights of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Someone has rightly put it as “a stich in time saves nine.”