Pakistan’s government in an effort to tighten it’s grip over Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) has decided to hold elections in the region on August 18. Human rights activists and people of GB have protested against this move as they know this is Imran Khan’s government’s way of beguiling the populace into believing normalcy can return to this disputed region. They strongly believe the motivation behind conducting elections is to smooth Pakistan government’s deals with China. It’s a given that elections will neither be free nor be fair as most of the sane voices of GB have been incarcerated– some of them are serving life imprisonment for demanding fundamental rights. Meanwhile, Indian Government has decided to pull the veil off Imran Khan’s government’s face and expose it’s nefarious intentions of fortifying occupation over GB.
On April 30, Pakistan’s Supreme Court had announced that the next general elections in GB will be held on 18th August, and had also set up a temporary caretaker government till June 24th. Now that the tenure of GB’s legislative assembly is over, an election will follow within next 60 days. But holding fair elections in this part of the world is like attempting to boil the sea with a candle. Pakistan’s Army and government have ensured ways to curb liberties of anyone who is vociferous about the atrocities carried out on the people of GB.
No human rights, no political rights and no free judges. There’s no reason why we should remain a part of this country (Pakistan).
Gilgit-Baltistan is part of greater Kashmir region and a bone of contention between India and Pakistan since 1947. This is a mountainous region blessed with abundant cultivable land rich in minerals, but incessant exploitation of GB’s natural resources by Pakistan’s government has caused a trust deficit between the government and the local populace. In the past, GB was allowed nominal self-governing authority but whilst the local assembly could pass laws, it had no control over the budget and trade, which was mostly done with China. The Karakoram highway which passes through GB is the highest paved road in the world, and has a very significant role to play in the ambitious Chinese dream of CPEC(China Pakistan Economic Corridor), which is an imperative part of BRI (belt and road initiative). Ergo China’s involvement in the region has substantially increased in last few years.
But like everywhere else in the world, Chinese government has been accused of leeching the mineral wealth of the region while treating people of GB as pariah. CPEC was initially touted as a game changer in the region but people of GB have now realized that — there are no free lunches, and that there are no free aides. CPEC is a B2B (business to business) model. One such example is the hydro-projects in the region—100 MW KIU and 80MW Phandar, under which the Chinese companies offer electricity at the rate of Rs 13 per unit to GB, which can not be afforded by people of GB, who till recently were paying only Rs 2.5-7.5 per unit. Pakistan’s government has remained mute spectators to the exploitation.
The situation exacerbated in 2010 when a landslide in GB displaced 6000 people and destroyed farms, which for most was their only source of income. The lackadaisical attitude of Government in Islamabad towards those effected by the landslide, earned government the ire of people of GB, and protests followed.
One of the popular political leader of the region, Baba jan says— “We don’t want to be part of the country which incites terrorism in the name of religion. No human rights, no political rights and no free judges. There’s no reason why we should remain a part of this country (Pakistan). This is why we are hounded and badgered by intelligence agencies”.
Baba Jan is presently serving life imprisonment with many other political leaders like him, after they were charged of terrorism by Anti-terrorism court (ATC) of Pakistan. His crime was to protest against the government for not providing compensation for the people who lost their houses and their only source of income in a natural disaster. Life imprisonment for 81 years and fine of one million rupees each, ensures that nobody from the region ever raises their voice against the government again. But this is neither the first nor the last time Pakistan’s government has quelled the voice of the people of GB. Recently, Human rights commission of Pakistan (HRCP) had lambasted Imran Khan’s government for whittling down whatever negligible power that had been delegated to the region. After tinkering laws in 2018, Imran Khan, has managed to get excessive power over GB, which indirectly means Pakistan’s Army can now wrest and quash every attempt for independence by locals.
Colonial Schedule IV and anti-terrorism act are misused to quash civilian dissent in GB
– Amjad Ayub Mirza
A Pakistani human rights activist, Amjad Ayub Mirza, has called for boycott of elections as he views the elections held under Pakistani government to be a sham. He says government often misuses the anti-terrorism act to silence civilian dissent and also uses it as means to prevent free and fair elections from being held in the region. He says colonial Schedule IV and anti-terrorism act, ensure that people of GB do not get a fair representation in the GB’s legislative assembly. He adds organizations like Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM), Sindhudesh revolutionary army and Sindhudesh Liberation army have been banned under the draconian anti-terrorism act.
Ostensibly, in 2018 when demonstrations were being carried out against Gilgit Baltistan order, Police brutally attacked the protestors leaving many of them injured.
Imran Khan’s government’s atrocities in Gilgit Baltistan has prompted Indian Government to take stricter stance against Pakistan. India has not only in clear words called the attempt to hold elections in GB as illegal but also asked Pakistan’s Army to vacate GB. The following is a statement issued by Ministry of external affairs on May 4th.
In addition to the above statement, Indian government forced Pakistan’s high commission located in New Delhi to cut down it’s staff from 110 to 55. This step was also a result of the recent spy network busted by Indian intelligence agencies, in which two Pakistani diplomats were found indulging in spying under diplomatic immunity. Both were immediately declared persona non-grata and flown back to Pakistan.
After recent adventurism by China on India’s northern borders, India has steadily pruned the economic and diplomatic ties with both its belligerent neighbours, who work in tandem to keep India’s borders hot. But this must be the first time when India has in frequent succession asked Pakistan to vacate Gilgit-Baltistan and other illegally occupied areas. This has caused many to speculate that something’s afoot in the region.
Pakistan’s government has always insisted that the pro-independence protests by people of GB are funded by Indian agencies while the incarcerated leaders of the region confirm that their only crime was to fight for a better life. The accusations on them could not be proved even as the Anti-terrorism court pronounced life imprisonment to them. But injustice has become a way of life; autonomy and democratic rights are nothing but an illusion in GB. The last hope to lead a free life to which people of GB cling on to can be manifested only by India, but what remains to be seen is—how long will it take for this wish to become a reality?
An article by Levina
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