Timeline: Gilgit-Baltistan’s History of Political Exclusion
Photo Courtesy of: Joseph Bautista 2013 @Flickr
Gilgit-Baltistan, an internationally disputed region in Northern Pakistan, might be an “autonomous self-governing region” on paper. In reality, however, the area is in a political limbo: even though Islamabad claims it as part of its territory, Gilgit-Baltistan is being subjected to political and constitutional exclusion and denied any meaningful representation in the country’s parliament. Given Pakistan’s grim determination to implement the controversial China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, the situation of the population of Gilgit-Baltistan is already significantly more difficult and is likely to deteriorate even further.
February 2016 - The Pakistani government intensifies its crackdown on dissenting journalists by systematically silencing and abusing them. Violent and systematic persecution of those who report on government malpractice and the hardships faced by the Gilgit Baltistan community are the order of the day.
January 2016 - Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif sets up a reforms committee to devise a roadmap for Gilgit-Baltistan with the goal of eventually making the region a provisional constitutional province of the country. This would mean that Gilgit-Baltistan would finally be granted significant constitutional rights and, among other things, political representation in the Pakistani Parliament. Gilgit media and local activists warn that this move is not just a simple gesture of goodwill by Islamabad, but rather due to Pakistan’s will to satisfy the interests of China, as both countries are keen on intensifying economic cooperation.
August 2015 - The Gilgit-Baltistan legislative assembly unanimously passes a resolution pressing the government to include the region in the consultative committee working on the implementation of the CPEC economic corridor, which is to pass through Gilgit-Baltistan. In a similar vein, the chairman of the Gilgit-Baltistan Movement demands that the region be granted its fair share of the revenues in connection with this project, in order to contribute to the development of the region.
June 2015 - The police harasses and arrests eight activists who attempt to deliver a letter to UN observers in Gilgit, in which they call the planned elections illegal and demand a plebiscite to determine the region’s political status. The incident is but a part of wider attempt by the Pakistani government to systematically crack down on dissent in Gilgit-Baltistan.
8 June 2015 - Gilgit-Baltistan holds its second legislative assembly elections after the area has been given provincial status. Activists such as the Chairman of the Balawaristan National Front, Mr Abdul Hamid Khan, sternly condemn the elections and question their legitimacy. Ahead of the elections the government had engaged in deliberate efforts to silence the opposition by arresting nationalist political leaders.
April 2015 - Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Mr Nawaz Sharif, announces a series of measures that should foster the development of Gilgit-Baltistan, as well as special representation for the region in the CPEC project. Critics see the Prime Minister’s announcement as a ploy to get votes in the upcoming assembly election.
October 2014 - Local people and political parties organise a series of protests against the encroachment of the Pakistani military on Gilgit-Baltistan. The deployment of tens of thousands of Pakistani soldiers and paramilitaries is in violation of several resolutions of the UN Commission on India and Pakistan (UNCIP) calling for the withdrawal of troops from the region. In addition to that, the region’s militarisation leads to the confiscation of land and degradation of the environment.
December 2013 - Hundreds of people protest against systematic violations of the political, economic and constitutional rights of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. The protesters call for freedom of speech, freedom of movement and the lifting of trade restrictions.
August 2011 - Publisher and chairman of the Gilgit Baltistan United Movement, Mr Manzoor Parwana, gets arrested by Pakistani security forces on false ‘sedition’ charges after giving a speech to the Balawaristan National Students Organisation in Gilgit City and challenging military encroachment in the region. Later in the month, security forces arrest more than twenty youths who peacefully protested the illegal arrest of Parwana.
March 2011 - Following the murder of senior Pakistan People’s Party leader, Mr Nawaz Khan, the Supreme Appellate Court passes a resolution urging its Chief Justice to take action to stop increasing incidents of assassinations and targeted killings. Five people are injured in ensuing sectarian skirmishes following Khans assassination.
January 2011 - In response to a power crisis caused by a burnt transformer which had left the region without electricity for more than two weeks, local youths stage a peaceful protests, succeeding in their aim to reinstate electricity. When locals had informed the relevant authorities about the crisis, their demands had initially been ignored.
September 2010 - India successfully persuades the World Bank to refuse a loan to Pakistan, which was intended as a financial assistance to the construction of the Diamer dam. This timely intervention helps abort the project and save the homes and farmland of thousands of local families. The local population had heavily protested against the construction. In these and other protests denouncing governmental neglect and excesses by Pakistani security forces, hundreds are detained and protesters are systematically tortured and silenced.
August 2010 - Above-average monsoon rains cause massive floods in the region, leading to a humanitarian crisis, with basic necessities running out. The floods cause tremendous loss of lives and massive economic damages in the region. Gilgit and surrounding districts are cut off from the rest of the country as dozens of roads and railways are closed due to landslides and inundations. Human rights groups issue urge international assistance in the form of humanitarian aid and relief funds to be allocated to Gilgit-Baltistan directly, as they fear Islamabad would try to divert them to other regions.
March 2010 - On 18 February, Pakistani security forces brutally crack down on protests against the construction of the Diamer Dam. Three protesters get killed and seven suffer serious injuries. Local activists urge the United Nations and human rights organisations to take stricter actions against those who kill and injure local protesters.
November 2009 - Hundreds of local leaders are arrested and later forcibly expelled to Islamabad as the population is to elect the Legislative Assembly on 12 November. Many of those leaders deemed the polls illegal and had called for a boycott. Others had decided to challenge the process through participating in the – admittedly – small democratic space which had been created through the ‘Gilgit Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order’.
29 August 2009 - The Gilani government – in an attempt to prop support for its party – passes the ‘Gilgit Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order’, granting autonomy to the people of the former Northern Areas, now renamed Gilgit Baltistan. The symbolic self-rule is established by creating an elected legislative assembly and an Advisory Council, whose members are selected by the federal government. While Gilgit-Baltistan now has a de facto province-like status, it is still not constitutionally part of Pakistan. Local representatives of Gilgit-Baltistan’s indigenous people deem the government’s move sheer window dressing, with the new institutions being severely infiltrated by pro-Pakistan political leaders and the final authority on all important matters remaining in the hands of the federal government.
2008 - 2009 - Pakistan approves plans to build megadams in the Gilgit-Baltistan region. If the three dam projects planned were to be realised, up to 400,000 indigenous people would have to relocate, while about 200 km2 of the region’s rich environment and several cultural heritage sites would be submerged, one example being more than 30,000 Stone Age rock carvings in the Basha-Diamer area. Important international partners such as the US support the controversial decision to construct these dams.
November 2008 - The Northern Areas Legislative Council approves a resolution to restore the historical name of the region “Gilgit-Baltistan”. However, the Pakistani government delays for a long time the implementation of this resolution, thereby deliberately diminishing the region’s political and historical identity.
2007 - General Musharraf initiates the Gilgit-Baltistan Reforms Package 2007 which, among other things, envisions handing over greater fiscal responsibility to the Northern Areas government and turning the Northern Area Legislative Council into the Northern Areas Legislative Assembly.
1999 - The Supreme Court of Pakistan directs the government to take administrative and legislative steps to enforce the fundamental rights of the people in the Northern Areas and end the “dictatorial and colonial system at work in Gilgit and Baltistan”. Following the landmark verdict, Islamabad announces a “package” providing for an appellate court and more seats on the council, now renamed the Northern Areas Legislative Council. Most of these changes are of a semantic nature, however, and the Council has only marginal legislative powers, mostly limited to local governance decisions.
1994 - The Legal Framework Order (LFO) is introduced to set up a Northern Areas Executive Council with 24 elected members. The council has only limited authority.
1988 - Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto amends once again the laws governing the Northern Areas. A new body, the Northern Areas Council, is formed.
1971/72 - Then-Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto visits the area and announces the abolition of all princely states. A representative body is formed, the Northern Areas Advisory Council. The 18-member body is chosen through direct elections and headed by a commissioner. However, the region continuously lacks any meaningful representation in mainland Pakistan’s political institutions. Although Bhutto lifts the infamous FCR, the region remains largely outside of Pakistani politics.
28 April 1949 - Without the consent of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and without including any leader from Gilgit in this agreement, a handover of power takes place when officials of the Pakistani government meet with those of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) government. They agree that the administration of Gilgit will now be run by Islamabad. To that end, the Pakistan government creates the Federal Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas which is to govern Gilgit and adjoining areas through the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), a notorious set of laws that allows collective punishments, outlaws political activities and denies basic rights.
1 November 1947 - The local population of Gilgit-Baltistan overthrows the Dogra rulers and declares independence as the Republic of Gilgit, with Sha Raees Khan as its President. However, the newly-founded Republic is able to maintain itself only for 16 days. In the course of the Indo-Pakistani War, Pakistan occupies the territory and – after local authorities accept the unconditional offer to join the Pakistan federation – incorporates it into the Pakistani state. Islamabad thereby effectively takes over the administrative control of Gilgit.
1846 - After having been a conglomerate of several independent princely states, the region of Gilgit-Baltistan is incorporated in the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir by the Dogras, who govern the region for the following hundred years.