The people of Pakistan controlled Giglit Baltistan are going to exercise their right of vote to elect 24 members of Legislative Assembly on November 12, This significant move is component of a contested Constitutional package-“ Gilgit- Baltistan Empowerment and Self governance Order-2009 ” enforced by Government of Pakistan, which, amid strong criticism and resentment of Kashmiri political parties, received largely cheerful rejoinder from the people of Gilgit Baltistan who were struggling for their constitutional rights since their inclusion in Pakistan.
Historically, the Northern areas have been part of former State of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan assumed the administrative control of the region on 28 April, 1949 when first president of AJ&K Sardar Ibrahim, Ghulam Abbas, President All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference and M Ali Gurmani, Minister without portfolio Government of Pakistan signed an agreement in Karachi. This agreement was not participated and endorsed by the people and leadership of the region which future was decided in it. At that time Government of AJ&K had no representation from Gilgit and Baltistan and then ruling party – Muslim Conference had no presence in Gilgit and Baltistan like now. Plainly, the decision was made without the consultation or involvement of local leadership and people who liberated their homeland from Dogra regime by an armed revolt.
The region practically remained invisible in the mainstream political and constitutional structure of the country for almost half century. No considerable move was made to empower the local population who stayed on the mercy of Islamabad controlled local administration. During this period the only noticeable step was Northern Areas Council Legal Framework Order 1974-75 which abolished feudal system and Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) from the region. On November 3, 1999, Northern Areas Council was established through the election; however, it is a common perception among the nationalist circles that that Islamabad continued to alienate local people through Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas.
Throughout the history, the focal point of the Pakistani establishment and pro- Pakistan Kashmiri leadership confined to highlight the human rights situation in Indian Kashmir and advocating the “doctrine of right of self determination”, conversely, the people of Gilgit Baltistan were ignored both by Pakistan and majority of Kashmiri leadership. In recent years the plight of the people of Gilgi Baltistan was echoed on international fora like European Union and Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) where Pakistan was denounced for its deliberate failure Vis -a -Vis political rights scenario of Gilgit Baltistan.
Under new economic and strategic processes in South Asia, the region of Gilgit Baltistan becomes vital for the survival of Pakistan. The Kara Korarm Highway (KKH), abundance of water recourses and prospective participation of China in Iran Pakistan gas pipeline project- are few critical factors which connote the significance of the region for Pakistan and its neighbors. In this milieu, Pakistan can not afford the aggravation of local population in northern Areas where some nationalist groups already demand for an independence state at a time when separatist struggle in Balochistan and Taliban movement in NWFP region have raised the questions for the survival of the country.
In this scenario, Islamabad considered indispensable to design some measures to counteract this stern international criticism on Northern Areas issue, thus, recent ‘Self rule Ordinance’ could be viewed as an artifact of that international and domestic needs of Pakistan, however, the development has attracted by and large amalgamated resentment and resistance from major Kashmiri political voices. All Parties Hurriyet Conference (APHC-M) which claims to be representative of all Kashmiris even without any representation from Pakistani controlled AJK and Gilgit Baltistan, hailed the self rule for northern areas. However, all fractions of JKLF and other nationalist parties and alliances like APNA and United Jihad Council have categorically opposed Pakistan’s move. They say that Northern Areas are part of Kashmir; therefore, Pakistan cannot initiate any mechanism in the region till the resolution of Kashmir dispute.
On the other hand, the cheerful supporters from Gilgit Baltistan argue that if Azad Jammu & Kashmir can operate under an interim constitution enacted by the AJK Legislative Assembly in 1974, without damaging the official stance of government of Pakistan over Kashmir, why the people of Gilgit Baltisant can not enjoy the similar political, constitutional and administrative rights?. Additionally, they allege that the people of Gilgit Baltistan were ‘sold’ to Pakistan through reprehensible ‘Karachi Agreement’ participated by some Kashmiri leaders. Subsequently, they insist that inhabitants of Northern Areas should not be sacrificed for the sake of ‘Kashmir case’ and term the package as a stride towards further political, constitutional and democratic reliance and economic development of the region.
The truth is that the majority of Kashmiri leaders who strongly oppose the package have never felt the sufferings of people of Gilgit Baltistan. Few from these champions of reunification of Kashmir have been enjoying the luxurious gains of clout structures who never consider establishing any physical, constitutional or symbolic arrangements between AJK and Northern Areas to restore the reunification of the divided State. Few of them frequently enjoy visits of foreign countries ‘to highlight the Kashmir issue’ on international level’ on expense of nation’ exchequer. Ironically, the expertise of the majority of these leaders could be judged from their pathetic knowledge of contemporary intertioanal affairs, regional geo-political developments and poor competency in English language. Others who had opportunities to grab parliamentary representation through AJK Legislative Assembly, confined to pass resolutions denouncing human rights violations in Indian part of Kashmir, disregarding that the Gilgit Baltistan being an essential component of state of Jammu and Kashmir, also needs their moral and human support to grant the citizens their basic rights.
The enforcement of self rule regulations in Northern Areas and other current Pakistani measures are a visible sign that Kashmir and Kashmiri people are no more in Islamabad’s policies and priorities like the previous decades. In such situation, the Kashmiris should ready for some more harsher decisions from Pakistan. No doubt, it is a hard-hitting time for Kashmiri leaders to intertwine internal social, economic, political and cultural needs of all units of former state of Jammu and Kashmir with the broader national cause of self determination.
[The writer is Executive Director of Press For Peace (PFP) .He could be contacted at: