By Ammar Firdous
The recent wave of anger that struck the people of Gilgit-Baltistan was over the absence of Chief Minister-GB, Hafiz Hafeez-ur-Rehman as an official delegate during the “One belt one Road Forum” held in Beijing. This summit was attended by the Chief Ministers of the other four provinces, along with Prime Minister of Pakistan, and several federal ministers. Unfortunately, the continued trend of neglecting Gilgit- Baltistan prevailed. The summit was regarding New Silk Route and the on-going mega project, CPEC.
Gilgit Baltistan holds a very strategic and significant position in this mega project, being its entry point. It would not be unfair to say that without Gilgit Baltistan, CPEC cannot be implemented, or materialized. The only accessible route between China and Pakistan lies in Khunjarab, which is a part of Hunza District of Gilgit Baltistan. The marvelous Karakurum Highway, which runs along the mystical, shimmering Indus River and beneath the lofty dignified range of mountains is considered as the jugular vein of CPEC, also passes through the heart of Gilgit-Baltistan. This was an August occasion where the official representation of Gilgit-Baltistan was intensely needed.
The history of Gilgit Baltistan is full of such occasion when it was utterly kept out of the decision making process. After almost 69 years of Pakistan’s independence, still the constitutional limbo of Gilgit-Baltistan is unresolved. The history of exploitation can be traced back to the very unpopular, “Karachi agreement”, signed in 1949 which between the Government of Pakistan and the Government of Azad Kashmir, which has nothing to do with Gilgit-Baltistan.
This agreement determined the fate of Gilgit Baltistan without even considering it a party. It gave Pakistan the legitimacy to administer the Gilgit Baltistan region through the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. Since then, the reform proposals in 1975, 1994, 1999 and 2009 were with no serious legislation, rather they were false deference to consolidate the status of Gilgit Baltistan. Still Gilgit-Baltistan is neither a province nor a part of the federation.
The brave and valorous sons of Gilgit Scouts liberated the region from the shackles of Dogra Raj, by revolving on 1st November 1947, and fighting a yearlong war. They made their own state, which existed for 16 days, before annexing with Pakistan, no strings attached. Pakistan Government has never acknowledged the annexation and never kept the wishes of the locals in high-esteem. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan still lack the basic constitutional and political rights. They have no representative in the National Assembly or Senate to voice their concerns. The local people do not even have the access to the Supreme Court of Pakistan for justice. This leaves the Gilgit Baltistan in a very grave situation.
Azad Kashmir and even the Hurriyat leadership in Jammu Kashmir are quite vocal in believing that Gilgit Baltistan is a part of Kashmir. They vehemently oppose the consideration of giving Gilgit-Baltistan the status of 5th province in Pakistan. For them, such a decision will affect the Kashmir cause in the United Nation. They are right to some extent because the region of Gilgit Baltistan is shown as a part of larger Kashmir in Security Council Resolution.
Now, here is the confusion. How come Gilgit Baltistan is a part of Kashmir? They have absolutely nothing in common which constitute them as a single region. They have altogether different culture, language, ethnicity, cast, histories, and there’s not even an easily accessible route between the two region.
In fact, when Gilgit-Baltistan was liberated from the Dogra Raj in 1948, it became and for more than two weeks remained, an independent state, just like Pakistan and India. With the ending of the occupation of Dogra forces, and liberation of the region, the connection with Kashmir dispute vanished, as it was no more a part of any country. Later, the region’s leaders annexed with Pakistan according to the principle of right to self-determination, freedom and independence as derived from Charter of United Nations.
When India took the case of disputed territory of Kashmir to the Security Council, Gilgit-Baltistan was strategically linked to Kashmir by Pakistan authorities so that votes could be reserved for the plebiscite for future settlement of Kashmir dispute. Otherwise Kashmir had no link with Gilgit-Baltistan.
The authorities have always been playing games with the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Their hypocrisy and craftiness has definitely no parallels. For how long will dance on their tunes? There is a limit to everything, and it’s almost over now. We need to take pragmatic steps with perseverance for our legal and political rights, and we must stop being played with, once and for all.
Last, but not the least, the people of Gilgit Baltistan deserves a genuine tribute to their loyalty and a solid recognition of their desire to be part of Pakistan. We celebrate Independence days twice a year; once on 14th of August, and again on 1st of November.
Nothing will stop us from loving Pakistan and nothing can stop us from attaining our legal political rights.
The contributor is a 4th Semester Political Science student at the Forman Christian College, Lahore.