Refreshing our faulty memory: Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir go hand in hand

Published: November 5, 2014
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Regardless of history, if the senate committee is finally able to provide provincial status and local self-government to Gilgit-Baltistan, this would not only be a tremendous service to these people but it would also finally include the Gilgit-Baltistan territory into Pakistan. PHOTO: AFP

One of the main and often forgotten blunders of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), during their different stints in power, is the sell-out of the hopes and aspirations of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.

This is a historical fact, though the PPP tries to hide it as they are hiding other blunders as well, counting on the short memory of the public. But not all is forgotten and especially not forgiven; some of us do remember what happened in the past.

The people of Gilgit-Baltistan had liberated themselves from the clutches of the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir in 1948, declared accession to Pakistan at that time and in return the federal government sent Sardar Alam Khan as the first political agent to Gilgit with an APA for Baltistan. This decision to attach Gilgit-Baltistan to the newly founded state of Pakistan was accepted and became a part of the Karachi Agreement, that was later signed in 1949 between the then president of Azad Kashmir, Sardar Muhammad Ibrahim and Chaudry Ghulam Abbas, and the government of Pakistan, under Liaquat Ali Khan.

But one wonders why Pakistan never honoured this commitment. Gilgit-Baltistan has strategic importance due to adjoining borders with Pakistan’s Azad Kashmir in the southwest, the Pakistani province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa in the west, the Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan in the northwest, the Xinjiang Uyghur of China in the north and northeast, and the Indian-occupied territory of Jammu and Kashmir in the southeast.

It was in 1974 that Mr Bhutto, during the first International Jurist conference, asked me to meet the PPP secretary general, Dr Mubashar Hasan, and help to pave way for empowerment of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and particularly for the refugees of Kargil/Ladakh, living in different cities of Pakistan. All preparations were made accordingly but when the new status for Gilgit-Baltistan was to be announced, Bhutto’s special assistant, M Yusuf Buch who also hailed from Srinagar, advised him not to empower the people of the northern areas till the resolution of the Kashmir issue through a plebiscite. Bhutto took the easy road and went along with that.

During his 1975 visit to Gilgit-Baltistan, he constituted a 23 member PPP committee of Gilgit-Baltistan, in the prime minister’s house at Rawalpindi, where Colonel Hassan Khan, who was designated as a senior vice president, objected to the composition of the committee saying that it is representing the informers of the Gilgit administration more than the political people. Colonel Hassan Khan, the hero of the Gilgit freedom struggle, was arrested by Bhutto’s administration and later released on the imposition of martial law in 1977.

Then came blunder after blunder.

During Ziaul Haq’s days, a committee under the then establishment secretary, Ijlal Hyder Zaidi, was formed to suggest constitutional reforms in Gilgit-Baltistan. After months of long deliberation, efforts were being made by the two powerful lobbies from KPK and Punjab to get the Gilgit-Baltistan territory attached administratively with either of the two. Two local senior officers, Wazir Farman Ali and Abdul Wahid, serving in the federal government and who got a chance to be heard, resented the moves of resident commissioner, Mr Inyatullah Khan and Mr Iftikhar. Ijalal Hyder Zaidi got convinced and refrained from doing the same. Then as a result of non-party elections, when Mr Junejo became prime minister, observer status was granted to two gentlemen, one each from Gilgit and Baltistan in the federal parliament, which continued till 1995-6.

Now, again a new attempt is underway. A sub-committee of the Senate Human Rights Committee has been tasked to recommend amendments in the Gilgit-Baltistan (empowerment and self-governance) Order 2009 to empower the people of the area under political expediency. Even after a lot of hue and cry in 2009, the PPP government dealt with the wishes of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan insufficiently. They again stopped short of making Gilgit-Baltistan a full-fledged province constitutionally and instead just gave them a PPP chief minister who would do nothing for the region and its people. Instead of a provincial assembly and a representation in the senate, a powerless council was instituted that operates from Islamabad and is manned by the bureaucrats of the federal government instead of representatives of the local people.

Under the rules of the business, the powers of the council are exercised in its name by the ministry of Kashmir affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan, which regulates and controls the administration of the area directly. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan have been protesting against this new dishonesty from day one but, under the PPP government, no redress of their plight was possible. The earlier result of Empowerment and Self-governance Order 2009 has been that once again 10 to 15 thousands of the political cronies of the PPP were given employment in government departments without any vacancies. The result is that the government employees didn’t get their salaries for four to five months. ADP funds are diverted for the payment of salary and the money allocated for wheat subsidy is also spent on salary payment. The salary head of account is creating an extra liability of Rs750 million annually. Power development projects started during Musharraf’s regime are on hold and no new project has been conceived. Four XEN’s of NAPWD have been suspended for quite long as surplus, while jiyalas are being fed on this money.

Is this the empowerment the PPP envisioned?

Hence, the need for a genuinely representative provincial assembly and a representation in the senate is required to establish transparency in Gilgit-Baltistan. The current sub-committee, consisting of three senators Mian Raza Rabbani, Mushahid Hussain and Farhatullah Babar, is now crying over spilt milk when they say ‘no share in the profits earned from the hydroelectric power stations located in Gilgit-Baltistan and on river Indus goes to the territory’, that ‘Gilgit-Baltistan is neither in the national grid, nor even part of a regional grid. It does not even have a Board of Intermediate and Secondary Education and examinations are conducted by the Islamabad Board and the Committee concludes. No wonder that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan not only feel deprived but also cheated’.

Regardless of history, if the senate committee is finally able to provide provincial status and local self-government to Gilgit-Baltistan, this would not only be a tremendous service to these people, who for many decades have been neglected, but it would also finally include the Gilgit-Baltistan territory into Pakistan, not a small achievement given the aggressive Kashmir policy of the Modi government of India, which in my opinion has received tacit approval internationally and is now aggressively trying to usurp Ladakh and Jammu as a bargaining chip to give semi-independent status to the valley and our AJK territory. This means the territory of Gilgit-Baltistan has a bleak future in days to come if the rulers in Pakistan continue to play for foreign galleries and prioritise their selfish personal motives.

The Kashmir conflict, which started in 1947, is a territorial dispute between India and Pakistan over the Kashmir region. When British India was separated into the two states of Pakistan and India, as part of the partition process, both countries had agreed that the rulers of the princely states would be allowed to opt for membership of either Pakistan or India, or in special cases to remain independent.

India claims Kashmir on the basis of an ‘Instrument of Accession’ obtained under pressure from Maharaja Hari Singh, the then ruler of Kashmir. Pakistan claims Kashmir on the basis of it being a Muslim majority area and of geography, the same principles that were applied for the creation of the two independent states of India and Pakistan.

India referred the dispute to the United Nations on January 1, 1948. The UN passed a number of resolution in 1948, the UN asked Pakistan and India to withdraw its troops. A plebiscite would then be held, US navy admiral Chester Nimitz was appointed as a plebiscite administrator by the UN. But Pundit Nehru, who also belonged to Kashmir, kept changing his mind. First he tried to merge it with India by appointing Sheikh Abdullah as chief minister but soon after, when Sheikh Abdullah had disagreement on this issue, he was arrested. Then in 1963-4, when Nehru understood that he can’t merge Kashmir with India he released Sheikh Abdullah and allowed him to meet President Ayub Khan and other Kashmiri leaders in AJK to perhaps make them agree on an ‘independent Kashmir’ formula but nature came in the way of the resolution of this dispute that Pundit Nehru died suddenly, in the presence Sheikh Abdullah.

The two countries have fought at least three wars over Kashmir, in 1947,1965, 1971 and 1999, and have had several skirmishes over the Siachen Glacier. India claims the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir and administers approximately 45.1% of territory, including most of Jammu, the Kashmir Valley, Ladakh, and also the Siachen Glacier. India’s claim is contested by Pakistan, which controls approximately 38.2% of Kashmir, consisting of Azad Kashmir and the northern areas of Gilgit and Baltistan. The Siachen conflict began in 1984 with India, when the unoccupied and undemarcated area of the Siachen Glacier was overrun by the Indian army. India has now established control over all of the 70 kilometers long Siachen Glacier and all of its tributary glaciers, as well as the three main passes of the Saltoro Ridge immediately west of the glacier — Sia La, Bilafond La, and Gyong La. Pakistan controls the glacial valleys immediately west of the Saltoro Ridge.

One of the factors debated in the background of the Kargil War of 1999 is perhaps our miscalculation in sending infiltrators to occupy vacated Indian posts across the Line of Control, thinking that by this action India would be forced to withdraw from Siachen in exchange for a Pakistani withdrawal from Kargil, which proved otherwise due to United States’ inclination towards India. Both sides had previously desired to disengage from the costly military outposts but after the Kargil War, India decided to maintain its military outposts on the glacier, wary of further Pakistani incursions into Kashmir if they vacate from the Siachen Glacier posts without an official recognition from Pakistan of the current positions.

The Kashmir conflict is one of the main bones of contention in the Indo-Pak relations. It has cost dearly to all of the sides involved: India, Pakistan and last, but not least, the Kashmiri people. Pressure should be mounted on the UN to implement its resolutions on Kashmir to mitigate the suffering of innocent Kashmiris then consider taking the case before International Genocide commission. With the new aggressive Indian government in place, the hope for a plebiscite and an amicable resolution of the conflict is even scanter than before. It is important that Pakistan secures the territory under its care not only for strategic or political reasons, but for the reasons of the trust of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, which they had put into Pakistan so many years ago. May God bless humanity, the people of these regions and Pakistan.

Ali Ashraf Khan

Ali Ashraf Khan

The author has been a Central Information Secretary of PML (Malik Qasim & Khwaja Khairuddin), remained associated in MRD formation and then as Member Central Coordination Committee of PDA. He is an ex-member of FACC during PPP's regime. He takes active part in trade body politics as a member EC of FPCCI 2014 and belongs to a refugee family from Kargil and Ladakh.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.