Gilgit Baltistan Rights Movement: Challenges and Solutions

Gilgit Baltistan Rights Movement: Challenges and Solutions

Zubair Abdullah

As time passes by, the sense of alienation in Gilgit-Baltistan is fermenting. The educated youth are restless. They are very keen to contribute something for alleviating the status-quo situation in Gilgit Baltistan. But, like most of the rights movements, this very movement is prone to many pits. Some key issues are the wrong political narrative, uneducated historical generalization, lack of honest leadership, lack of future visualization, and most importantly the adrenaline driven attitude of youth themselves. These are very serious troubles and if not corrected the results would be catastrophic.

Pakistan is standing at a historic juncture. The leaders of Pakistan are overwhelmed by the crises of every possible nature. Due to the lack of due attention from leaders, the minorities are feeling alienated and sidelined. The case of Gilgit Baltistan is one among many of the issues. Without going into the details of who is responsible for the current situation I would like to discuss the future challenges for the movement.

Firstly, the issue of misleading narrative. The narrative on which the whole movement stands is fallacious and negative. I beg to differ. The narrative that state intentionally kept the region aloof of development is a dangerous narrative. If we look at the unstable history of Pakistan we should appreciate that the state never had the luxury of time and liberty to address the issues of the region. It was not intentional plan to keep the area underdeveloped. The constitutional history of Gilgit Baltistan also shows that it has evolved much. Much has been changed and with time the status will get better. If we look at history we might appreciate that the 1000 years history of Gilgit Baltistan was not commendable. It was filled with poverty and hardships. The literacy rate at the time of independence was below 15%. Only royal families enjoyed the pleasures of life while rest of the population suffered innumerable hardships. In short, all was never good in history. In last 70 years, the literacy rate has risen above 70% which is higher than the country average. The sources of livelihood have been diversified. The lives of women have drastically improved. Maternity deaths were common in back days. The burden of pasturing and firewood collection from mountains is removed from lives of women. The average family is prosperous. Unemployment is addressed by connection with the rest of the country. In short, the picture is improved. Being a thankful member of the society we must first show the gratitude.

To further elaborate the situation I would like to compare the situation on the other side of the border. The change we witness in Pakistan is nowhere to be seen on the Indian side. Although the Ladakh and Kargil enjoy constitutional representation and financial representation, the lives of ordinary men are not much affected. The population is under strict military control. I believe the development we witness in Gilgit Baltistan is much bigger than in any region of Pakistan. I believe that the narrative of intentional neglect should be dropped. The movement for more autonomy is a genuine one and does not need to lament someone for our plight. We are seeing development so we should carry it forward without blaming someone else for our plight. We have the best environment for development and growth. We should exploit it without initiating a battle.

Secondly, the uneducated historical generalization. We often say that we have no historical relation with Kashmir. It is again a very biased view. From the birth of life in GILGIT BALTISTAN till the construction of KKH Kashmir was our main source of sustenance. It was our only trade route and we heavy relied upon it. We must not forget that we had a link with Kashmir. In addition, when 3rd June Plan was proposed we were part of Kashmir.  Only Gilgit Agency can claim to be part of British India at that time but officially they became part of Kashmir after British returned it to Maharaja. Pakistan cannot claim that certain territory of Princely State should be treated separately while discussing the Kashmir issue. Accept it or not we were part of Kashmir when Pakistan was created. If we should blame anyone it should be our forefathers whose internal quarrels paved way for Dogra Forces. History cites that the traitors and opportunistic rulers of region opened the gates for Dogra Forces. Unfortunately, the same opportunistic dynasties ruled us during Dogra Raj till 1974. Till 1974 they used to forcefully collect taxes from peasants and traders. It was the benevolence of Pakistan that they relieved us from those cruel rulers. It was the greatness of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who forcefully abolished the dynastic system and introduced the parliamentary system. I would say that we had a historical nexus with Kashmir and our forefathers were welcomed by Kashmir like we are welcomed in other Provinces today. Having said that, we are at an adventitious position after the construction of KKH and CPEC. The merger of GILGIT BALTISTAN and Kashmir is now beyond possibility. The geography does not allow any such merger. The two has been separated for good by nature and can never be combined again from the perspective of governance and ethnicity. From this perspective, we need not worry that in any future event these two might be combined.

The case of occupied Kashmir is another dilemma we must not forget. Being the member of a free society as who fought our way for freedom and we must pledge our support for Kashmir cause. We must not try politicizing the Kashmir issue for our gains. There is an undeniable mention of our region in UN resolution. UN urges both sides to maintain the status quo till plebiscite is carried out. The translation of this point is very tricky. As time passes-by our government gains the argument that to ensure the governance we needed to change the status quo. Beyond that Pakistan cannot bear any damage to its cause due to any development in GILGIT BALTISTAN. We must not forget that one of the main hurdles in empowerment is not the UN Resolution rather the incapacity of the local population. Empowerment is a heavy responsibility and we need to prove our capacity before we ask for empowerment. We are about to hear another empowerment order in which the locals will be better empowered. I would go with the evolutionary empowerment model. It suits us and it will ensure the smooth transformation of power. So, there is no need to blame Kashmir for our plight. GILGIT BALTISTAN has grown out of historical contexts. The geo-strategic importance has transformed it and its identity can never be merged with anything else. We can show a high moral ground by pledging our resolute support for Kashmiri Muslims. Remember that about half of Gilgit Baltistan is still under Indian Control. How can we forget Kargil, Ladakh and half of Chorbat? We would be mentioned as traitors to the aspirations of those citizens of Gilgit Baltistan. Are we going to claim that we accept the occupation of Indian forces on Kargil and Ladakh and Chorbat? I cannot do that. If we stand for Gilgit Baltistan we must stand for every inch of the region, every soul of the region.

Thirdly, the issue of leadership. Currently, there are more than ten thousand rights movements struggling for their rights but we hear about none of them. It is because they are hijacked and exploited by opportunistic leaders. Only a sincere and selfless leader can represent the true sentiments of the people. GILGIT BALTISTAN has the history of the dynastic system. They have more resources at their disposal. They have more reach in the political circle. The current movement is very much prone to them. A leadership with the true realization of ground realities and with true affection for people is necessary. I do not see any such leadership in GILGIT BALTISTAN. Most of the leaders of the movement are driven by emotion rather than practicality. GILGIT BALTISTAN has become the centerpiece of global geo-security. Our geo-strategic location is a blessing as well as a curse. It will soon become the battlefield for the superpowers. Its vitality for superpowers will be enhanced after CPEC. We need a leader with strong wit and vision. A leader who can transcend the propaganda campaigns of our enemies and represent the true sentiments of people. Such leadership can only grow out of experience and patience. The issue of GILGIT BALTISTAN is not an issue which needs harsh slogans and violent posture. It is merely an issue of devolution of power. Federation is devolving power and we need a leader who could streamline this process rationally. It is a fact that Pakistan will never accept a leader who considers secession as an option. Any leader who blames state also disqualifies for such role. If we are asking the state for something we must be diplomatic. We must pledge our support for the integrity of the state. Pakistan will never listen to us if we adopt offensive posture. Pakistan might be in crisis but no state can be blackmailed by violence. A visionary and diplomatic leader is still to grow from the people.

Fourthly, the issue of false vision. It is the most important issue. Does anyone of us know what will happen if GILGIT BALTISTAN is given the level of autonomy we are asking? I believe it would be a disaster.  GILGIT BALTISTAN will travel 70 years back into the hands of dynasties. Currently, they control about 50% of the resources. They control major political parties. We would be seeing another feudal class in GILGIT BALTISTAN. We are witnessing the fate of Sindh and Balochistan under feudal Governments. They will never allow fair devolution of power. The power will be restricted to those elites and people will have nowhere to go. Utopias are beautiful to dream about but not for living. The leaders who are showing those beautiful pictures of tomorrow are hiding something behind the cloak. They know that GILGIT BALTISTAN will never be an economically viable province. It can only be a viable option if we open our doors for Capitalistic investors. Do we not see the result of industries in Haripur and Hattar. Two cement industries have consumed three mighty mountains altogether in 15 years. Industries will consume the mountains within next 100 years and what would be left would be a barren land with no more potential. We cannot ensure that the gains of those industries would be transferred to locals. It is easier to say something than done. Multinational Companies (MNCs) are bigger than states. They have potential to bomb Iraq for oil, topple Libyan Government for hegemony. What do you think? Can a fragile government in GILGIT BALTISTAN be able to strike a fair deal with those MNC’s? We are not told the real picture behind this autonomy slogan. It seems beautiful but the responsibility is heavy. In my opinion, we must follow the path of gradual devolution of power. It will enable uniform growth of population. A vibrant middle class will grow. New political leadership will emerge.

In addition, I listened to a speech by a nationalist leader who pointed at the mountains and told that these mountains are full of resources. And we are suffering although we are sitting on a gold mine. I agree with that leader. Would he like to show the picture of African countries? I say these reserves are a curse to this region. The region should not ever try to exploit them. Rather we should focus on preserving the nature blooming on such mountains. Minerals are one-time wealth while nature will grow every year. The tourism industry will bring more prosperity to the region than those reserves in the mountains. For a vibrant tourism industry, we must preserve the nature as much as possible. African countries present a good picture of such reserves. I fear GILGIT BALTISTAN might become next Africa if we have such leaders who are eying on the reserves rather than nature. The pits of future are darker than I described here. It is not encouraging seeing the interest of global powers in the region. Believe me, GILGIT BALTISTAN will never ever have a democratic government in future. Today if we blame that Pakistan is dictating the government, I agree. But if we have any degree of autonomy a second country will be dictating the government. In today’s world, I see not even a single country besides global powers who do not take dictation from a superior power. It is the rule of politics and we must not dream for a sovereign democratic government.

Lastly, and most importantly the issue of the adrenaline driven attitude of youth. I urge the youth to sit down and think before we take a step. It is not time to use emotion. It is time for a pragmatic approach. Whenever any mishap happens we either choose the offensive or a sympathetic attitude. For example, we suffer at the airport on daily basis. PIA cancels flights without due reasons. Our people stage a protest there and disturb the passengers. It defames us in front of the nation. The pragmatic way would be to reach our leaders and try settling the dispute. After the protests, we disperse till next cancellation. It depicts the low temperament of our society. We cannot achieve anything with this attitude. If any mishap happens we should try to find out the root cause and address that. In some other cases, we play a sympathy game. We depict that we are suffering and someone should come to help us. We are never helpless. We are always in a position to solve our issues. This attitude of looking for a savior shows our lack of courage. We should never wine when we suffer. If we want something we should accept the repercussions. The attitude of youth should be “positive and constructive”. We need to read more of the world politics and rights movements.  Unfortunately half of rights movements fail and the people suffer. Very often the results of movement come-out contrary to the believed narrative. Now is the time to think and reflect. Very soon we would be observing a momentum in the movement seeing the interest of USA and India. They are very keen to exploit the sense of exploitation among the people. They would be fueling the movement. Youth would be the most prone class of society especially those who are studying in cities. The youth in cities have more exposure and due to homesickness, they show more reaction to mishaps. If we do not adopt the positive and constructive attitude we would be suffering.

To conclude, the situation in GILGIT BALTISTAN needs a sagacious reflection. Pakistan is a country not specified for any ethnicity or class. Iran is for Iranians and Saudi Arabia is for Arabs. Pakistan has no such limitation. GILGIT BALTISTAN has no other reality without Pakistan. Pakistan has ushered more than enough in last 70 years. Every social indicator improved. Economically we are prosperous. Realistically speaking our elders adopted this attitude of being positive and constructive. They focused upon education. The government also facilitated the region with infrastructure and aid. Our elders were educated by Government Schools and today our financial status allows us to afford private education. More is needed to be done. But with every step we take our intention should be clear and our motive courageous. The vision of prosperous GILGIT BALTISTAN can only be realized through education. All the slogans of autonomy and rights will never bear fruit if we are not educated enough to cater the challenges. A delegation of students met with Quaid-e-Azam and asked to allow them to indulge in politics. Quaid-e-Azam strictly forbad them and asked to focus upon education. Such is the vision of a leader. We need such leader who cares more about future than current gains. With Education, the landscape will change. We would be in better position to help those in need. With the education, I mean reading books outside the curriculum. Books about rights movements in history. Being positive and having constructive approach will help us everywhere.  There is a famous saying to conclude.

Let’s tell our children that:

The best books are yet to be written,

The best drawings are yet to be drawn,

The best poems are yet to be rhymed,

The best governments are yet be made,

The best is yet to be done by them…

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Pamir Times

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Pamir Times is the pioneering community news and views portal of Gilgit – Baltistan, Kohistan, Chitral and the surrounding mountain areas. It is a voluntary, not-for-profit, non-partisan and independent venture initiated by the youth.