Gilgit-Baltistan: The moment Of Truth For Pakistan
As protests escalate and the prospect of further militancy looms, it is time for India to acknowledge the urgency of Kashmir as a political rather than a law and order issue.
Below is an article published by Asian Affairs:
A few weeks ago, India successfully persuaded the World Bank to refuse a loan to Pakistan, which was going to help construct the Diamer dam in Gilgit-Baltistan. India objected on the grounds of this region being part of the Princely State of Jammu & Kashmir and hence lying outside Pakistani jurisdiction. While the decision of the World Bank has brought relief for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, the occasion also invites one to review the events of the past sixty years, which reveal the chronological incidents of Pakistani oppression and disregard towards local needs and demands.
Pakistan was created by partitioning India in 1947. At the time, this new country was introduced as the citadel of Islam and a welfare state for the Muslims of India, and its rulers promised to work for the betterment and protection of her citizens. Like others, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan pinned their hopes on their Pakistani rulers. Those hopes proved short-lived when Pakistan adopted the policy of exploiting the land and resources of Gilgit-Baltistan without benefiting the natives. The acute deprivation in sectors like education, health, drinking water and sanitation are some examples of unfair Pakistani policies.
It is an irony that even with an abundance of natural resources, half of the population of Gilgit-Baltistan still lives below the poverty line and thousands of educated youth remain jobless. The revenues from trade and transit also largely benefit outsiders. Pakistan uses the Karakoram Highway to connect to China and promote her strategic and military needs but the locals remain deprived of compensation. Pakistani corporations receive preference to benefit from minerals and gem-mines while the rivers and glaciers of Gilgit-Baltistan continue to sustain Pakistan's agricultural needs. One wonders if the natives of this region really deserve such cruel treatment after rendering their resources and services to sustain the economy and security of Pakistan. After occupying the region in 1948, Pakistan abolished Gilgit-Baltistan's judicial and political institutions, which had evolved over thousands of years to cater to local needs. In return, inhumane governing systems such as the Frontier Crimes Regulation was imposed upon locals to deny them political autonomy and justice. To date, the natives of Gilgit-Baltistan remain deprived of religious freedom and cultural identity. Those who question Pakistan's oppressive policies have no choice but to part with their loved ones and lose their lives. Despite strong opposition from the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan uses their land to advance militancy and terrorism. Pakistani agents employ religion and race to divide the locals. Coerced conversions have led to changes in religious demography and increased social polarization. Such provocations have invited mayhem and culminated in the slaughter of thousands of local Shias and Sufis at the hands of Pakistani terrorists and security forces. Strange and sad it may seem, but Pakistan commits these crimes in the name of 'nation building' and 'social integration'.
Pakistan's attitude to take and take and give nothing in return continues as her demands multiply. As the country faces acute power shortages, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are once again expected to take on an involuntary burden by allowing the construction of dams on their land. Pakistan's decision to construct dams in places like Diamer and Bunji has increased threat perception among locals, who see their homeland converted into a giant lake. Pakistan has refused to acknowledge that the Diamer dam will destroy villages and settlements. It will throw people off their ancestral land while submerging the graveyards of their forefathers and damaging cultural heritage. The farmlands, forest and pastures which are the backbone of the local economy will be inundated. Wildlife and their habitats will be lost, causing grave environmental catastrophe. The glaciers, which support the farming needs of hundreds of thousands of natives, will experience melting at breakneck speed. Through the Diamer dam, Pakistan is demonstrating its will and capacity to annihilate Gilgit-Baltistan.
Given the severity of the situation, natives continued their protest against dam construction. They laid down their lives to stop the project. Many received martyrdom at the hands of Pakistani security forces, while hundreds of others were tortured and detained for protesting.
Their struggle didn't go unheard. The entire population of Gilgit-Baltistan felt the pain and stood behind the people of Diamer. Rights defenders and nationalist forces disseminated information around the world. It was in this context that India came to the rescue of locals and persuaded the World Bank to refuse financial assistance. This timely decision helped abort the project and save the homes and farmland of thousands of families.
To set the record straight, Pakistan has proven from its policies and strategies that it is not interested in the protection, development and wellbeing of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, but only in exploiting their resources. It is willing to eliminate an entire race of people who have lived in Gilgit-Baltistan for thousands of years and called it their homeland. On the other hand, India has projected itself as the country that came to defend and rescue the people of Diamer.
This is the moment of truth for Pakistan.
Senge H Sering is an independent security analyst based in the USA. He originally hails from Gilgit-Baltistan.