By Asif Sakhi
It is said that it takes four to five years to become a first class citizen of any country but unfortunately, after almost 66 years, the most civilized, peaceful and educated people of Gilgit-Baltistan, the so-called province of Pakistan, have been neglected and ill-treated like stepchild by successive governments in Pakistan.
In 1948, the Republic of Gilgit-Baltistan emerged on the map of the world and survived only for a couple of weeks. The people of the region fought their own war against the tyrannical regime of Dogra Raj and won their freedom. Because of the political circumstances that included a lack of resources, governance skills and political leadership, the victorious freedom fighters opted to accede to Pakistan unconditionally.
The people of GB have always been unequivocal in defending their association with our motherland. No doubt, this part of Pakistan is not a constitutional part of the country, it has never lagged behind any other province in terms of sacrifices for the sovereignty of the state but still these patriotic citizens have no right to cast votes, no representation in the national assembly or senate, and GB has been ignored in a wide range of issues including education, healthcare and infrastructure and development. Indeed this region faces immense problems in many other fields where other citizens of the different provinces of Pakistan enjoy constitutional rights.
In many wars, fought between Pakistan and India the bravest and the best soldiers in Pak-Army were from Gilgit-Baltistan. They were fighting despite knowing their constitutional status.
The Kargil War is also an evidence of the love of the people of the region with Pakistan. In 1999, hundreds of soldiers of the NLI (Northern Light Infantry) sacrificed their lives and fought in extreme conditions to capture Kargil, but they were labeled militants and Mujahideen. They stood by their country despite being disowned. Lalak Jan, who fought with extraordinary valor in Kargil and was awarded Pakistan’s highest military honor Nishan-e-Haider, was from Gilgit-Baltistan.
The first ever Pakistani man Nazir Sabir and woman Samina Khayal, to climb the highest peak of the world (Mount Everest) and host the green flag there are also from this region, this shows the evidence of the love of the people of the region with Pakistan.
Being from the soil of Gilgit-Baltistan, I am now observing the youth are mostly joining anti state moments going on in the region by saying that if asking and talking about our rights label us anti state then yes we are anti Pakistani.
65 years is a long period of time to wait for the right of casting a vote of having a representative in Islamabad. It doesn’t even take more than a few years to be granted the nationality of countries like the US and UK. It is unfortunate that 80% of Pakistanis don’t even know the status of Gilgit-Baltistan, although they always speak for the rights of the people of Indian-administered Kashmir. The sovereignty of Gilgit-Baltistan is much more important for Pakistan than that of Srinagar.
Considering the sacrifices and loyalty of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and considering the strategic important of the region, it should be given the status of Pakistan’s fifth province. It is the gateway to the natural resources of the Central Asian states and the progressive state of China that is a major source of economic stability for Pakistan. The region itself is rich in gold, uranium and gems. Its second largest water reservoirs in the world outside Antarctica and the North Pole make it a lifeline for Pakistan’s agriculture and can be used to make 50,000 megawatts of electricity. Gilgit-Baltistan is blessed with the tallest mountain peaks in the world, having the potential of attracting millions of dollars in adventure tourism.
It is essential that the legislators, think tanks and policy makers in Pakistan resolve this issue on a priority basis, before there is a sense of deprivation in the region similar to the former East Pakistan or Baluchistan.