New Delhi, Mar. 5 (ANI): After more than six decades of independence, there are a million plus people entitled to citizenship of India who are being suppressed, humiliated and exploited by mercenary forces.
This statement may come across as ludicrous to all those who are unaware about the state of affairs in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Jammu and Kashmir.
This region was a part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir at the time when the erstwhile Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir Hari Singh signed the instrument of accession.
The region was not liberated by Indian forces during the Indo-Pakistan War of 1948. Intervention by the United Nations led to a ceasefire and a huge mass of land was forcibly occupied by Pakistan and renamed as Northern Areas (NA).
Ever since, this area has been ruled by Islamabad despite the fact that it is not constitutionally integrated with Pakistan and its people do not have representation in the National Assembly. Having received this bonanza without effort, Pakistan set about misusing it as a tool to further its political, economic and strategic objectives.
As time passed, the covetous Punjabis of Pakistan realised the immense economic potential of the region and let loose a massive programme of exploitation after gaining control of all assets. Governments and political dispensations in Pakistan changed over time, but the policy towards the Northern Areas remained unchanged.
In the last 64 years, no less than 11 political systems have been experimented upon these hapless people.
Recently, the Government of Pakistan, through the enactment of the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self Governance) Order 2009 of August, 29, 2011, designated the region as an integral province of Pakistan.
In accordance with this legislation, the Governor of the Northern Areas will head a 12 -member council with 50 percent members from the Assembly and the remaining 50 percent appointed by the governor himself.
This caveat by itself reduces the position of the chief minister to that of a dummy. Also, the legislative assembly will have no control over defence or the treasury. This devolution, which is the result of a protracted political movement of the people of this beleaguered region, clearly falls short of their justified aspirations and is being vigorously contested.
Even as the Pakistan political leadership and the army continues their machinations, the plight of the people is going from bad to worse.
The region which supplies electricity to both Pakistan and China, has 14 to 16 hours outages on a regular basis because defective transformers that cannot be replaced due to a lack of funds. The area is rich in minerals, yet, the locals are banned from mining. The right has been given to neighbouring provinces and to the Chinese.
More than three lakh ethnic educated people are jobless, and yet, the people are not getting adequate government employment.
There is not a single local judge in the entire province. On the other hand, Pakistan Government officials posted to the area draw double salary. The few local government employees do not get their salaries for months on end.
Natural disasters like floods and earthquakes add to the misery of the people. Schools, hospitals and other infrastructure damaged by natural calamities, are not repaired for years. Dilapidated poultry farms are being used as schools. No compensation is paid to people who lose their homes and belongings in such calamities. No subsidy is given to tide over bad times.The people are raising their voices against this form of blatant oppression. Spontaneous mass uprisings with thousands, sometimes lakhs of people taking to the streets, is a common occurrence. Sadly, with a total population of about 1.4 million, these poor impoverished people cannot stand against the combined might of Pakistan and China.
The police and the army do not hesitate to open direct fire on demonstrators. There have been instances where inhabitants of entire villages have been detained, while sedition charges have been slapped on local leaders with impunity.
Yet another matter of great concern has been raised by a report titled "Pakistan's Deteriorating Situation, Strained Relations with America: Deliberation on Leasing Gilgit-Baltistan to China for 50 years", published in a local Urdu newspaper of Gilgit-Baltistan, Roznama Bang-e-Sahar.
It is being contended that Pakistan is poised to hand over the region to China on lease for fifty years due to certain strategic and economic considerations.
The move has the complete support of the Pakistan Army. It goes without saying that such a development will spell disaster for the people of the region. Clearly the list of miseries of the people of the Northern Areas is endless. They are at the mercy of exploitative forces and are facing a situation of institutionalised slavery.
Pakistan's occupation of Northern Areas is illegal and forceful. Nevertheless, the question of political status can be dealt with separately.
The most important and immediate requirement is to ensure that people are allowed to lead normal and dignified lives.
Pressure has to be built on Pakistan to cease its blatant exploitation of the region, and, also put a lid on China's greedy ambitions.
Pakistan has to be prevailed upon to restore the political rights of the people, release all political prisoners, grant freedom of press and create local autonomous governing bodies. Restoration of people to people ties in the contiguous regions of Ladakh and Kargil and opening of trade and transit routes also needs to be pushed.
In 1971, India gave moral, material and military assistance to political leaders and rebels in what was then referred to as East Pakistan against West Pakistan. This eventually led to the creation of a new nation - Bangladesh.
The question that can be asked is why is the Indian leadership not reacting to the sad plight of the people of Gilgit -Baltistan? By Jaibans Singh (ANI)
Attn: News Editors/News Desks: The views expressed in the above article are those of Col. (retired) Jaibans Singh.
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