Exodus of the youth of Gilgit-Baltistan

By Naeem Khan

Karakorum and Himalaya are known as the world tallest and longest mountain ranges. The Karakoram is a mountain range across the borders of Pakistan, India, China and Afghanistan is located in the regions of the Gilgit Baltistan, Ladakh, Xinjiang and the Wakhan Corridor. These areas are inhabited for thousands of years and in last hundreds of years they lived in small kingdoms. Marcopolo once travelling thorough these areas called them a region noisy of Kingdoms since he had faced problems crossing one small kingdom to another. For most part these small kingdoms had remained independent and sometimes had wars with each other. This independence created an atmosphere where they were able to structure own political and economic system.

In 1877 British forces conquered and controlled the region in order stop Russian Czar Advancement towards south Asia. British India Government under the princely state of Jammu Kashmir established the Gilgit Agency. Not all parts of current Gilgit Baltistan were under control of Jammu and Kashmir. At the time of the partition of British India into India and Pakistan, Gilgit and Baltistan was under Jammu state. To remain under Maharaja of Kashmir was unacceptable for local people and leadership. Gilgit scouts started rebellion against the Maharja forces and won the war of liberation against the Dogras and Indian forces in 1947. During the liberation war, Gilgit Scouts and other local forces who joined them from Baltistan, Diamer and Chitral had sacrificed many lives with the victory and declared the republic of Gilgit.

On April 21, 1948, Pakistan and India went to the United Nations Security Council to resolve the Kashmir dispute. The UNSC hearing both sides established five members commission to restore peace and resolve the issue. The UNSC resolution says that according to will of Kashmiris and with the help of fair referendum, they will decide the future of Kashmir. The people had three options; 1) Be part of Pakistan, 2) Be part of India or 3) Remain Independent.

Behind the game there was a fake Karachi Agreement which was created by establishment and religious clerics of Pakistan because freedom fighters and GB political leadership were unaware of the United Nations resolution. Pakistan used Gilgit Baltistan for Kashmir cause technically to get votes, in case if the referendum was held at any point. The underlying assumption was that the people of Gilgit-Balitstan will vote for Pakistan. Since then internationally Gilgit-Baltistan is seen as a disputed territory connected to the Kashmir dispute.

Today, after the passage of seven decades, the main demands of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan is constitutional status for the region as a fifth province of Pakistan. However, Pakistan claims that Gilgit-Baltistan cannot be given a constitutional status due to its commitment to the 1948 UN resolution. So, one side there is Pakistani political and economical interests, and on the other side is the question of Gilgit Baltistan’s sovereignty and future.

Gilgit Baltistan’s decisions are being  made by people who do not belong to the are, nor they are representing the locals. Instead, they get the deicion making powers on behest of the winning party. These non local leaders have never wanted to empower the natives of GB. They ruled the region for sixty-eight years from Islamabad and could not establish single institution for economic upliftment, cultural preservation and social development of the people in  the region. This semi-colonial rule has not only destroyed the region’s cultural heritage, values and languages of region but also crated religious and ethnic hatred among the people of GB.

Youth of Gilgit Baltistan are not getting opportunities in their region because of no investment made by the Federal Government and restricting private investors from investing in the region. They also face discrimination in the down country because of ethnic and sometimes religious differences. This has led to frustration of educated youth who completed their education in different universities of Pakistan and finding no opportunities to work. The students of Gilgit Baltistan pay higher cost for the same studies in the cities because of displacement cost. Most of the people send there children to universities by selling their properties. But they find that there are no Jobs for their educated children. If there would have been a survey of youth suicides in whole of Pakistan the ratio of highly educated suicides in GB will be highest in the country.  This uncomfortable situation has led a few to leave the country and move abroad as skilled and unskilled labor. Most of the people in Gilgit and Baltistan see moving abroad as the last hope for their survival.

Fast moving towards developed countries, especially western countries, is one of the major reasons the region is deprived, and this does not augur well for the future of Gilgit-Baltistan.

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