Gilgit Baltistan, a colony of Pakistan, has a dummy Assembly which consists of 33 Members, but only 24 are directly contested. Gilgit Baltistan has seven districts where election campaign has ended, and people will vote today to elect members of Assembly which is strongly controlled by Islamabad.
Pakistani leaders and governments talk of Muslim brotherhood, yet they ensured that Muslim brothers in Gilgit Baltistan were ruled with an iron fist without access to fundamental human rights. After occupying Gilgit Baltistan in 1947, Pakistani rulers thought Muslim brothers living in this region were not suitable to benefit from fundamental human rights or enjoy fruits of democracy; therefore up till 1975 these areas were ruled under Frontier Crimes Regulations, draconian laws enacted by the British to crush local people.
People of Gilgit Baltistan are angry with leaders of so called Azad Kashmir because it was they who signed the Karachi Pact, and left these people at the mercy of Pakistani rulers who treated them inhumanely. They are also angry with India which claims that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is its 'integral part'; yet failed miserably to help these enslaved and vulnerable people. Past history tells that New Delhi, despite its claims was so fearful that it practically ignored plight of the people of Jammu and Kashmir State
It is because of the harsh treatment and immense suffering that people of Gilgit Baltistan did not want to be either part of so called Azad Kashmir or even part of Jammu and Kashmir. They feel at the time of need they were left to suffer; and no help or support was provided to them. After great effort and interaction between people of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan, now some leaders and political activists have understood that we in Azad Kashmir were also enslaved and helpless.
One leader of Gilgit Baltistan, while discussing political situation of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan said to me: Why should we become part of Azad Kashmir which is enslaved by Islamabad? If we join Azad Kashmir we will be slaves of Azad Kashmiri leaders; who are slaves of Islamabad. If we have to be subservient to someone then why not deal directly with Islamabad.
It made some sense, and now we understand sentiments of people of Gilgit Baltistan. We people of so called Azad Kashmir strongly feel that we are oppressed by Islamabad and are denied of our basic rights; and our resources are exploited by Pakistani elite. However, if we compare so called Azad Kashmir with Gilgit Baltistan, then we are living in heaven; and in view of that one can visualise the plight of people of Gilgit Baltistan who were left at the mercy of the Pakistani bureaucrats and security agencies.
Wajahat Khan, former Chairman of All Parties National Alliance while writing to me stated:
'Dear Shabir Choudhry, I am here as witness to all atrocities committed by Pakistani establishment, which took over Gilgit Baltistan on 16th Nov 1947. They (Pakistan) imposed Sardar Alam Khan, a non local Pathan, as a political agent who enforced worst black colonial rule Frontier Crime Regulations as a 'gift' to GB freedom. This system continued till 1975, and during this period no political parties or political activities were allowed... Pakistani governments wanted to divide people on sectarian lines, and the State Subject Rule was abrogated in 1954 to change demography of Gilgit Baltistan and people from Pakistan were settled here, so that local GB people should not rise to demand their fundamental rights....'
'The situation was made from bad to worse by a military dictator General Zia Ul Haq who deputed Brigadier Syed Pervaiz Musharaf and Brigadier Aziz Khan to launch an attack on Gilgit Baltistan in 1988, where an Islamic Lashkar consisting of 40,000, mainly raised from Pakistani province of KPK. These people carried out atrocities in which hundreds of innocent people lost their lives, and 23 villages were burnt down along with mosques and Imam Bargaas.'
After making Gilgit Baltistan practically a province of Pakistan, Islamabad holds a drama of sham elections to show people that they care. Reality is gradually Gilgit Baltistan is sucked in to ambit of Pakistan where local people will have no say in any matter related to them. For example, Gilgit Baltistan Self empowerment package 2009, of course prepared and enforced by masters in Islamabad, states: 'An Order to provide greater political empowerment and better governance to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan;' however thinking people of the region believe it has made the local people more helpless and have strengthened those sitting in Islamabad.
Pakistani political parties know importance of this region; and many leaders of Pakistan have purchased large tracts of land by violating State Subject Laws. The PML (N) is contesting all 24 seats, whereas, PPP has fielded 22 candidates, PTI have 21 candidates, MQM 9, Jammiat
Ulma e Islam 10, All Pakistan Muslim League 12, Islami Teherek e Pakistan 12. So one can see nationalist candidates have no chance to win because they don't have resources and they don't have support of the local administration.
As for constitution of Pakistan, Gilgit Baltistan is not part of Pakistan. Many Pakistani leaders have also stated that Gilgit Baltistan is not part of Pakistan, then question arises what right
Pakistan has to appoint Governors and hold elections there. Can a country hold elections in an area which legally does not belong to them?
Federal Minister of Pakistan Chaudhry Barjees Tahir was appointed Governor of Gilgit Baltistan on February 16, 2015; can a Pakistani become a Governor of this region?
Before a new Governor is appointed the incumbent has to either resign or he should be legally removed by a competent authority. Any leader of Pakistan be it Prime Minister or the President is not legally entitled to appoint or remove a Governor in Gilgit Baltistan. Barjees Tahir's predecessor, Pir Karam Ali Shah was not even informed that he was removed and a new Governor was appointed. He was not even invited to the ceremony. Rulers in Islamabad know this is their colony and Pir Karam Ali Shah could not do much apart from issuing a statement which he did and claimed that:
"I still consider myself the constitutional governor of Gilgit-Baltistan," Pir Karam Shah said; "This is unconstitutional, unethical and illegal to appoint a new governor without taking resignation from or officially removing the incumbent governor… we seem to be living in the age of Sultans instead of a democratic era."
Because of violations of State Subject Law, in some areas of Gilgit Baltistan local people are becoming minority, and they could face same fate of people of Palestine who became a minority when their lands were purchased by Jewish people, and influx of Jewish people from outside.
According to one local political activist, as a result of influx of Pakistani settlers, 90 percent of trade is now controlled by Pathans and Punjabi settlers. Also large areas of Gilgit Baltistan are leased out to Chinese and Pakistanis for exploration purposes, which means natural resources which belong to local people, are plundered.
Whether we like it or not elections will take place today, and nationalist parties will lose, because the elections will be managed to produce a result which suits Islamabad. After strengthening their hold on this region they will try to annex it completely, because Chinese are not fools to invest 46 billion US dollars when the legal status of the areas that link Pakistan and China was in doubt. In other words, before making any financial commitments the Chinese wanted assurance about legal status of this region, hence we saw Gilgit Baltistan Self empowerment package 2009.
In next stage they will absorb the entire region, and my fear is that this region could be used to set up more training camps for future jihadi warriors who could be exported to other countries to advance Islamabad's agenda. Those countries who have interest in this region will not sit idle and they could formulate strategies to counter Pakistani and Chinese designs and this region, as I predicted in my book 'New Round of the Great Game', in February 2011, that this region could become a battleground for competing powers.
The views expressed are those of Dr Shabir Choudhry, a political analyst, TV anchor and author of many books and booklets. Also, he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.
He can be reached at his email:drshabirchoudhry@gmail.