On September 18, an attempt by the Imran Khan government to hold a consultative meeting was thwarted when opposition parties announced their boycott of the session called by the Parliamentary Standing Committee for National Security to discuss a constitutional package for Gilgit Baltistan (GB). This defeat comes at a time when a general election in GB is expected by the end of November.
In a desperate attempt to guarantee a victory in the forthcoming elections, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government is leaving no stone unturned. From hypocritical and rhetorical claims that GB is set to become the fifth province of Pakistan to demagogic references to Islamic bondage between the occupier (Sunni-dominated Pakistan) and the oppressed (Shia-dominated GB) and from naming post-election development packages to a sudden rush to the occupied region of Karakoram by top federal ministers to garner support for the ruling party, the whole election campaign has become a farce.
Khan cannot even get respectable candidates for his party in GB. Many who were once thought to become PTI candidates have now decided to contest elections as independents. Full-scale manipulation of voters' list, postponing the date of the election to November to let winter set in and snowfall block the roads that lead to far-flung polling stations causing low voter turnout, are only a few of the tricks up the sleeve of the Pakistani establishment to influence the results of the elections.
Not only that, a poor performance in election in GB will have an adverse effect on the popularity of PTI during the general election in Pakistani-occupied Jammu Kashmir (Azad Kashmir) due next year but it will also undermine the Pakistan Army’s control of the region.
Gilgit-Baltistan has been part of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir and Aksi-e-Tebitha since 1877. During the Pakistan invasion of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in October 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh seceded to India, allowing Indian troops to land at Srinagar airport on October 27, 1947. It did not take long for the forces to push the Pakistani army and tribal invaders back. As Pakistan’s defeat became imminent, a British mercenary by the name of Major William Brown was stationed in the Gilgit agency. He was ordered by the British to stage a coup against the Governor of Gilgit Agency, Brigadier Ghansara Singh. At the time the officers of the Gilgit Scots, a paramilitary force to scout the region, was under the command of British officers. They staged a coup and held individual meetings with the chieftains of the vassal states of the Gilgit Agency and gave them a choice of supporting the change in political status of the Gilgit Agency or face retribution.
On October 30, 1947, three days after the Indian troops landed in Srinagar, Major Brown made his move and took over
the Agency. On November 2, he pulled down the flag of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and raised the flag of Pakistan at the Gilgit Residency. Had Nehru not been to the United Nations and negotiated a ceasefire, Gilgit Baltistan would have been freed along with parts of west Jammu that were occupied by Pakistan army.
Actually the Indian troops were well on their way to liberate Skardu when they were stopped in their tracks. Indian troops retreated to Kargil and Leh.
Pakistan has since tried to swallow GB but in vain. In May 2007, a report submitted to the EU Parliamentary Committee on Kashmir, known as the Emma Nicholson Report, described the human rights situation in GB and PoJK and proved that there was widespread abuse of human rights in both regions. In the report, she mentioned that it was the Pakistan Ministry of Kashmir Affairs that dealt with political, economic and financial issues of the occupied territories.
The Minister of Kashmir Affairs, she noted, was a Pakistani, so were the Inspector General of Police, the Accountant General and the Finance Secretary. She also highlighted the fact the according to the interim constitution of Azad Jammu Kashmir (also known as Act 74), no political party was allowed to operate unless it pledged loyalty to the idea of accession to Pakistan.
Today, there are several dozen political prisoners in GB serving sentences up to 90 years. The colonial Schedule Four law bars any form of freedom of speech. GB is crucial to the Belt and Road initiative of China. The route that would take supplies from China to the Mediterranean and Europe has to pass through the occupied territory of GB before it reaches Gwadar port in Baluchistan. So it is under the immense pressure of expansionist China that Pakistan is attempting to nip GB. Pakistan owes billions of dollars to China that it has borrowed to help keep its dwindling economy afloat. China is investing over $60 billion just on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The irony is that all CPEC projects that are being constructed in Pakistan are done by Chinese loans. So it’s a double-edged trap for Pakistan. It’s a debt-trap. This is going to prove to be a death trap for Pakistan in years to come since the country is unable to generate a surplus economy.
In this scenario, occupied territories have become the first to bear the brunt of the economic casualty Pakistan is suffering. Indus river in GB and Jhelum and Neelum in PoJK have been diverted for the construction of hydropower projects in Diamer, Kohala and other places. This is causing severe ecological disaster in the region. Water shortages in GB and PoJK have forced hundreds of settled people to migrate. Green pastures for animal grazing have dried up and wildlife seriously endangered.
It is a wake-up call for India that its people and lands occupied in 1947 are now being systematically sent to the death camp of history by a rogue fascist state of Pakistan. The need to act to save our people and recapture our lands has never been so pressing.
(The writer is a human rights activist from Mirpur in PoJK. He currently lives in exile in the UK. Views are personal.)