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G-B is again declared as part of Kashmir?

The handling of the Gilgit-Baltistan election which came as a result of the much trumpeted Gilgit and Baltistan autonomy package announced on 29 August 2009, the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009, was passed by the Pakistani cabinet and later signed by the President. It gave self-rule to the people of the former Northern Areas, now renamed “Gilgit-Baltistan,” by creating, among other things, an elected legislative assembly, a Chief Minister, an acting Governor. This made the local population jubilant, while the PPP aim was to justify their victory. The Prime Minister further went on to say: “You are getting your identity today. It is your right and has been your demand, and today we are fulfilling it.”

Gilgit-Baltistan before known as this northern area of Pakistan is a self-liberated area which before 1936 was ruled by the Dogra Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir who then leased this area to British. When the partition plan of India approved by British parliament and the King was implemented Lord Mountbatten the new Governor General on 15th August 1947 returned this territory back to Dogra ruler, who appointed Brigadier Ghansara Sing as his Governor in Gilgit with the connivance of Col Beacon Methewson and Major Brown. The people of this strategically important region revolted against the autocratic Dogra ruler and carved out a “Republic of Gilgit”, on Nov 1, 1947. When Col. Hassan Khan and Capt Babar had captured the Gilgit Residency in which the Governor was killed, the warriors in Baltistan had by then taken full control over all the strategic passes on Kargil-Laddakh sector to cut the only Indian communication link with Kargil & Laddakh district till the time Pakistani army under command of Major General Jillani took over and advanced further deep into the Muslim area of Kargil. In 1951 Paddam Parri, Zojilla Pass and other areas were vacated by Pakistan Army on the coming into force of UN Ceasefire Resolutions on Kashmir, which were passed on the assurance of Pundit Nehru to withdraw troops and hold plebiscite in Kashmir. The local people of Gilgit & Baltistan have always contrary to this view that Northren Area is a disputed territory considered themselves a part of Pakistan as a result of Karachi Pact of 1951, not only the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, but also the international institutions such as the UN, EU, etc., have always upheld that the rule of Maharaja Harisingh over Gilgit & Baltistan as a colonial occupation had ended with the success of ‘Jang-i-Azadi Gilgit-Baltistan’ on November 1, 1947, when the last governor of the state of Kashmir Brigadier Ghansara Singh and his associates were killed in the war between Gilgit Scouts and Dogra forces.

This had ended the century long Kashmiri rule over the Gilgit-Baltistan region with hundreds of refugees from Kargil were repariated to Skardu as IDP’s, who have multiplied in number and are living in sub-human conditions in Rawal pindi, Lahore nd Karachi, the were given representation in AJK Legislative Council in K. H. Khurshid government in 60’s but have now been ignored in this empowerment plan. Then, a new independent state called ‘Islamic Republic of Gilgit’ was established with Shah Raees Khan as its President and after 14 days of its existence it had affiliated itself with Pakistan, which was given legal cover in 1951 under Karachi pact to merge with Pakistan as a separate entity, independent of Kashmir.

This should have settled the fate of this territory whose people had fought and died for the sake of joining Pakistan but given the situation that the Kashmir question was negotiated before the UNSC on the request of India Pakistan later on was hesitant to incorporate Gilgit & Baltistan fully into Pakistan to give constitutional rights to its population. In 1974 Z.A. Bhutto had been persuaded to cease this injustice to those people and to give Northern Areas the status of a province of Pakistan. He even had arrived in Gilgit with his entourage in order to announce this good news to the people, but then in the last moment he bogged down to the Foreign Office advise, which was afraid that such a step could endanger the status of the Kashmir dispute and again, the people were left in the lurch. The so-called autonomy package of 2009 did not change this situation any better except to distract public attention to win votes for PPP.

That is why PPP coalition partners in Pakistan have alleged massive rigging in these elections and called it “old wine in new bottles”. Now when elections are over let us not keep the people hostage to this 62-year-old idea it is high time now to give credit to ground realties and do justice to the region and the people. For the information of our Prime Minister and his government the people of Gilgit and Baltistan are not Kashmiris; they are a colourful mixture of many tribes and ethnicities speaking languages as different as Burushaski, Shina, Balti, Wakhi, Pashto and different dialects. They have ethnic relations to China, Ladakh, Tadshikistan, Afghanistan; others have lost their affiliations with their places of origin from where they had come along the silk route centuries ago. There is no reason why they should not be made a full part of Pakistan if they wish so. But that is a decision that would need a strong and democratically minded government in Islamabad, something which we definitely lack.

Nevertheless, after 62 years of a rather colonial attitude of Pakistan towards the people of Gilgit and Baltistan who were denied socio-economic development, roads, schools, health care and political rights by the country of their choice they still opted to take whatever little the Gilani package was offering to them and they enthusiastically participated in the election. This time also the political parties of Pakistan did not spare any effort during the election campaign to make their influence felt. One asks the question, what is actually the legal basis for Pakistani parties operating in a territory which does not officially belong to Pakistan? People here are already facing hard time under below freezing temperature that recently given PPP Empowerment and self governance carpet was quickly rolled back when Prime Minister Gillani loudly announced on the floor of National Assembly in response to MQM’s rightful protest on rigging in Gilgit Baltistan elections that this area is a part of Kashmir. Whatsoever will be the future out come of such a U-Turn, when PPP has engineered majority to form its government by publicly announcing a new development package to win votes, which is an act of breaking all rules of conduct in holding free and fair elections and which as a consequence has rendered the whole exercise questionable well before the first vote was cast. The rigging did not stop at that; it went on in all the constituencies were more-loyal-than-the king bureaucrats were stuffing polling boxes.

The electoral rolls were manipulated until the last moment and new names added for whom votes could be given and stuffed into the boxes. Since the day of the elections the people of Gilgit and Skardu are up in arms and the Pakistani parties who had been campaigning very hard and invested a lot of money are shouting ‘foul’. But actually this state of affairs should not surprise anybody; this is what is expected. The PPP is famous for rigging elections and its founding father Z.A. Bhutto lost his government because of rigging 1977 elections to muster three fourth majority to amend constitution into presidential form. Now the party under the leadership of his son-in-law is facing a similar situation with a status-quo cabinet. One wished the consequences would not follow suit in the same way as in 1977 to derail democracy as of now it looks that the War of Terror is being shifted into Pakistan under a changed geo-political environment due to short falls of our foreign policy during last decade. National unity is the only need of the hour, we need strongly committed sincere and honest leadership to steer the nation out of this Morass instead of stretching individual party power base and celebrating election victory. (News sourced from: pakobserver.net)

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