Gilgit-Baltistan needs India

  • By Jaibans Singh
  • June 2013

A study of Pakistan newspapers like The Express Tribune, Dawn, The Nation, Frontier Post et al clearly shows that these newspapers carry exhaustive coverage of all provinces. There is, however, an alarming deviation - Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir and more importantly, the newly created province of Gilgit-Baltistan, are neglected by the Pakistani media.

Day to day happenings in these areas, such as inaugurations, political rallies or even murders, rapes and terrorist strikes find no mention, let alone coverage. Even political initiatives, statements of leaders, visits of dignitaries, are not covered. At best there is an odd segment for the region in a few national newspapers. At the local level, there are just a few Urdu newspapers. In short, the area simply does not exist so far as Pakistani media is concerned.

In yet another travesty of justice, though Gilgit-Baltistan has been given the status of a province, its inhabitants did not vote for the National Assembly elections as they have no representation in the National Assembly and Senate. Yet, the hapless people followed the election process zealously as their provincial government is represented by mainstream parties.

It may be recalled that the previous government of Pakistan, through the enactment of the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self Governance) Order 2009 of August 29, 2011, designated the region as an integral province of Pakistan. In accordance with this legislation, the governor of the region heads a 12 member council with 50% members from the Assembly and the remaining 50% appointed by the governor himself. This caveat, by itself, reduces the position of the chief minister to that of a dummy. Also the legislative assembly has no control over defence and treasury.

Since the legislation came about under PPP rule, it was only logical that the government would also be formed by members of the PPP. Currently, the PPP governs Gilgit-Baltistan with JUI-F, PML-Q and MQM as coalition partners. The PPP’s Pir Karain Ali is governor and Mehdi Shah is chief minister.

Now with Nawaz Sharif coming to power, the shaky Gilgit-Baltistan dispensation is having the jitters. Mehdi Shah has found the courage to warn Nawaz Sharif to desist from ‘meddling’ with the PPP-led government. The regional chief of the PML-N, Hafizur Rahman, has retorted that PML-N is not interested in toppling the government, though it may replace the governor. There is a reason behind this hands-off strategy. PML-N does not wish to make a nationalist martyr out of Mehdi Shah and see the otherwise docile province going the way of Balochistan. No rocket science is required to deduce that the job of the PML-N governor, once appointed, would be to dismiss the government on charges of corruption and inefficiency at an opportune time.

The already deprived people of the region bear the brunt of this confrontational politics. The monsoons have not come in and Gilgit-Baltistan is already facing a flood like situation; water levels in the rivers and lakes have already risen, threatening to inundate the low lying areas. Increasing temperatures are causing glaciers to melt, which is triggering flash floods. Flash floods have swept away the main water channels and pipelines in many areas suspending water supply for days on end. People are literally dying of thirst. Environmentalists say that floods similar to the ones in 2010 may hit the region once again when the volume of monsoon rain increases.

Has anyone heard Nawaz utter one word about this imminent catastrophe? Has the Pakistani media covered the huge suffering of the people as it should? The Indian media that has a proclivity to cover every little thing happening in Pakistan has also been absolutely silent on this looming human catastrophe. The Indian government has not approached Pakistan with an offer to help the people and render support to face a potential natural disaster of huge proportions.

Nawaz is known to be anti-Shia but at present he has too much on his hands to think about Gilgit-Baltistan. In due course, he will generate the necessary defections in the puppet assembly and remove the PPP government. This is why the present debilitating condition of floods and water shortage is drawing no response from him. He wants the people to suffer and the PPP government to be discredited. The area poses no threat to his rule, so it can go to the dogs for all he cares.

India needs to reassess its policy regarding the region. It should not follow the Pakistan line and relegate this important area to the sidelines. It needs to keep in mind that the region is the launch pad for most terrorist activity, not because of the support of the people but because the people and their government cannot do anything to stop this illegal activity. In fact, the people are demonstrating against the hordes of foreign terrorists who camp on their land and are a huge nuisance and security hazard.

It is in India’s interest to bring Gilgit-Baltistan into the limelight and give moral support to the people who are, in any case, deprived citizens of the Indian nation. Ways and means have to be found to ameliorate their terrible suffering. The demands of the people as articulated by their freedom fighters operating from overseas can be taken up through diplomatic channels. These include condemnation of the ongoing human rights violations, restoration of state subject rule in Gilgit–Baltistan, opening of trade routes with Kargil region, end to inhumane attacks on Shias, exclusive rights to the land to the ethnic population, grant of political rights and genuine autonomy. India should not shy away from extending wholehearted support to the aspirations of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.

First published

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