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'If we had a choice between India and Pakistan, we would not be part of Pakistan'

'If we had a choice between India and Pakistan, we would not be part of Pakistan'

Author: Abdul Hamid Khan
Publication: www.tehelka.com
Date: December 3, 2001
URL: http://www.tehelka.com/channels/currentaffairs/2001/dec/3/ca120301abdul2.htm

Abdul Hamid Khan, chairperson of the Balawaristan National Front, tells V K Shashikumar that the people of Balawaristan are fighting for freedom from Pakistani oppression, and expresses distress at the Indian government turning a deaf ear to their appeals for help

Q.: Why is the movement for Balawaristan not known to the world? Is the Pakistan government's suppression of political activity in Gilgit and Baltistan responsible for this?
A.: International attention is focussed only on those political concerns that appear in the international media. Unfortunately, the international press, particularly Western press, is not bothered with a peaceful struggle. Only when a struggle turns into an armed struggle does it attract media attention. The people of Balawaristan (Pakistan Occupied Gilgit Baltistan (POGB)) believe in peaceful political struggle, and that unfortunately does not attract the attention of the world community.
Another important aspect is that the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) controls the Pakistani media, and it is highly risky for the Pakistani media to give any sort of coverage to the Balawaristan freedom movement.
Thirdly, foreign journalists and human rights activists are not allowed to enter Balawaristan. If at all anybody does risk entering Balawaristan, the ISI and other agencies monitor the activities of that person very closely. All copies of a local magazine, Balawaristan Times, were confiscated and banned in 1994; the Gilgit Digest was banned in 1998; Weekly K2 was banned and its editor, Raja Hussain Khan Maqpoon, was kidnapped by the ISI from his Rawalpindi office twice, and sent to prison. Dozens of fake cases were registered against him in different courts in Balawaristan. Finally, Balawaristan is a closed area, and Pakistan does not allow democratic activities here. I think there is no region in the world where political activists face as many sedition cases as the activists in Balawaristan do. More than a 100 political leaders and workers are facing sedition charges in Balawaristan. In spite of the extremely high level of repression, however, the world community remains unconcerned about the fate of the two million people of Balawaristan.

Q.: What is the religious affiliation and social constitution of the people of Balawaristan?
A.: Balawaristan has a 100 per cent Muslim population. However, Pakistan follows an unstated policy of accepting only the Wahabi sect among Muslims. The religious affiliation of Balawaristan was with Afghanistan, Central Asia, Kashghar, Yarkand of China and Kashmir. The first person to spread Islam in Balawaristan was Syed Shah Afzal of Badakhshan, Afghanistan. He entered the state of Yasen and spread Islam among the people of Yasen in 725 AD. The people of Yasen were the first to embrace Ismailia Islam in this region. Shah Salim spread Islam in Hunza in 1800-21. The people of Tangir/Darel embraced Sunni Islam after 1890. Syed Mohammad Noor Bux came to Khapoolo Baltistan in 1464, and preached the Noor Buxi Islam. Syed Ali Tusi and Syed Nasir Tusi came to Baltistan, and spread Shia Islam in 17th century. The last people of Balawaristan to embrace Sunni Islam were the people of Chilas, in 1868.

The ratio of different Islamic sects in this region is: 45 per cent Shia, 25 per cent Sunni, 20 per cent Ismailia and 10 per cent Noor Buxi. Sunnis are in majority in Dardistan (Diamar), Shia in Baltistan and Nagir, Noor Buxi in Baltistan (Ghanchhe, Khapoolo) and Ismailia in Brooshaal (Yasen, Hunza, Pooyaal, Ishkomen and Goopes). There was absolute sectarian harmony during the British rule and during the reign of the Maharaja. When Pakistan entered Balwaristan, and treacherously annexed it, a sectarian gap was created among the people of Balawaristan. Ninety per cent of the soldiers of Gilgit Scouts, who liberated Balawaristan from Maharaja, were Shia Imami Ismailia and Shia, while less than 10 per cent were Sunnis. This was also the ratio of those who participated in the Kargil War.

But as far as governmental benefits or high-ranking positions in the military, police, judiciary and other departments are concerned, the Sunnis are in a dominant position. The Sunnis hold 90 per cent of these posts, while Shias and Ismailis hold the remaining 10 per cent. Since employment opportunities and political rights are almost entirely in the hands of the Sunnis, the other Muslim sects have suffered.
The Pakistani aim has been to create sectarian rifts between our people. It ought to concern the international community that while the people of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) have been given political and economic rights, the people of Balawaristan have no such rights. One reason for this, of course, is our ethnicity, which is different from that of the PoK. Shias and Ismailis are mostly Boohoo (Yashkoon) ethnically, the Shias of Baltistan belong to the Balti stock, and the Sunnis of Dardistan (Diamar) are mostly Sheen (Dard) ethnically.

Q.: Are Pakistan's non-democratic policies based solely on religious grounds?
A.: No, not at all. The superiority complex of the Pakistani armed forces is largely responsible for this. The Pakistani judiciary is also responsible; it has always helped the powerful military ruler, by constantly disregarding political rights. Even in a democratic government, the military plays a key role. As far as the sectarian thinking of the Pakistan Army is concerned, the soldiers are mostly of the Sunni faith, but the officers belong to the fundamentalist Wahabi sect. During late General Zia-ul-Haq's tenure, many Wahabi fundamentalists were recruited and promoted in the forces, as well as in the civil administration. That policy of General Zia has now paid off, and is very visible in the manner in which the Wahabi fundamentalists have squeezed out the moderates in Pakistan.

Q.: Do you think that POGB and PoK would have fared better, had they had been part of the Indian democracy?
A.: Yes, of course. Our rights would have been protected, had we been part of India.

Q.: How old is the political movement in Balawaristan?
A.: The freedom movement has been on since 1992.

Q.: Is the Indian government, or its agencies, helping your movement? Do you want the Indian government to highlight the gross violations of international humanitarian law in Gilgit Baltistan?
A.: Unfortunately, we have received no help from the Government of India. We think there is some kind of mutual understanding between the governments of Pakistan and India to keep the people of Balawaristan deprived of all their rights. The attitude of the Indian media is worse than Pakistan's, as far as the Balawaristan cause is concerned. The Indian media highlights that PoK, which consists of 4,000 sq miles is part of J&K, and continues to neglect Balawaristan, which is seven times the size of PoK, and important in terms of both resource and strategic interests.

Q.: How is Gilgit Baltistan culturally different from PoK?
A.: There is a huge difference in the cultures of the two regions. The culture of POGB is unique. There is some similarity with the culture of POGB and that of Ladakh/Kargil, Kashghar/Yarkand of China, Badakhshan of Afghanistan and Central Asia. The culture of PoK resembles the culture of the Punjab of Pakistan.

Q.: Historically, the cultural centre of this region was Skardu. Do you think, that Gilgit Baltistan, Kargil/Ladakh form one cultural unit, and therefore should be united and be part of the Indian Union?
A.: Skardu was the cultural centre to the east of Balawaristan, and Gilgit and Yasen states to the northwest. The BNF stand is that all these parts are historically similar, and culturally have a strong affinity brought about by virtue of blood relations. That is why BNF demands that all these areas - including Chitral and Shenaki Kohistan (North West Frontier Province) (NWFP) occupied by Pakistan), POGB and Ladakh/Kargil (occupied by India) - should be united again. Our first priority is an independent Balawaristan, which is not part of any country. However, if the only choice open to us is to go with either India or Pakistan, we would definitely not go with Pakistan, due to the harsh experiences of the past 54 years.

Q.: How does trans-LoC (line of control) firing affect the people of Gilgit Baltistan?
A.: The people of Baltistan and Astore, which are areas near the Indian-held J&K border, have been badly affected, due to the Indian Army's retaliation to Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. About 400 families were displaced, properties worth millions were destroyed, and many innocent people lost their lives. Pakistan has armed thousands of its Wahabi terrorists, and settled them in different parts of Balawaristan, mainly in Gilgit and Baltistan. Hundreds of innocent unemployed youth of Balawaristan were deceived by the ISI, and sent to Afghanistan and Indian-held Kashmir to carry out terrorist activities. As a result, many innocent persons lost their lives, and sectarian harmony is also disturbed.
Q.: How many terrorist training camps has Pakistan established in Gilgit Baltistan?
A.: There are many camps throughout Balawaristan. Tangir and Darel in Dardistan district (formerly Diamar), Astore, Darul-Uloom, Juglote (Brooshaal district), Gilgit, Madrassa Nusratul-Islam, Konodas, Skardu city, and Ghowadi village near Skardu are the main terrorist training camps established and monitored by the ISI. Besides, there is a big camp near Mansehra of NWFP on the Karakorum Highway (KKH), from where the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban, Kashmiri, Pakistani and other terrorists are deputed to different parts of POGB, PoK and across the borders to Afghanistan and Indian-held Kashmir (IHK). It is interesting to note that approximately 12,000 Kalashnikovs have been stored in Skardu city for terrorism, 64 double-door pick-ups are used to supply weapons for Baltistan alone. In fact, the ISI has turned the whole region into a military depot, which could explode anytime.

Q.: Is there any legislature or council of elected representatives in Gilgit Baltistan?
A.: These terms exist only on paper, and Pakistanis use fraudulent institutions to misguide the world community. The Pakistanis have set up a Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC). Allow me to quote the Pakistani Supreme Court regarding the powers of this so-called "council" in its verdict on May 12, 1999, petition No. 11/94, filed by some Pakistani agents through an ISI-sponsored trust, the Al-Jihad Trust. (It is important to remember that the US Federal Intelligence agencies have singled out the Al-Jihad Trust as one of the main financiers of Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.)

This was the ISI's attempt to counter the freedom struggle of the BNF. The Supreme Court said, "We allow the above petitions, and direct the respondent federation as under: To initiate appropriate administrative and legislative measures within a period of six months from today to make necessary amendments in the constitution, and the relevant statute/statutes/order/orders/rules/notification/ notifications, to ensure that the people of Northern Areas (Gilgit Baltistan) enjoy their above fundamental rights, namely, to be governed through their chosen representatives, and to have access to justice through an independent judiciary, inter alia for enforcement of their fundamental rights guaranteed under the constitution."

Q.: Did the Pakistani government adhere to the Court order?
A.: Even three years after this judgment was pronounced, the people of POGB are yet to set up a representative council to consider and debate the political, social, and economic development issues of this region. Our human rights, and lack of access to judicial remedy, continue to remain unprotected. I would like to quote some unanimous resolutions adopted by the NALC in its sessions held in Gilgit:
* A resolution was passed in the fourth session of the NACL, in its 18-23 September, 2000 session, for approval of the procedure and conduct of business rules 2000, and submitted to the personal secretary (PS) of the chief executive (CE). The CE is a Pathan from NWFP imposed by Pakistan as minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas Affairs (KANA). There was no response.

* There was a proposal for renaming the Basha Dam as Diamar Dam, and construction of a substitute road for the affected people of the Karakorum Highway. This was passed during the November 2000 session, and submitted to the PS to the CE. Action on the resolution is still awaited.

* Grant of royalty to Balawaristan instead NWFP. No response.

* Grant of compensation to the people displaced before construction of the dam. No response.

* Right of self-rule in the light of Supreme Court of Pakistan judgment, dated May 28, 1999, submitted to PS of CE. No response.

* Abolition of Supreme Judicial Council comprising of bureaucrats to ensure independent judiciary. No response.

* Bringing the Chief Court of Gilgit Baltistan at par with the High Court. No response from Pakistan.

* The question of grant of compensation, to those affected by border firing in Qamari and Minimarg districts of Diamar, was raised during the November 2000 session. No action was taken.

* A resolution on taking up development activities through the NACL, instead of Pakistan-imposed bureaucrats was adopted. Action on this is still awaited.

* A proposal for inclusion of development schemes in the annual development programme (ADP), until such time that the people of Balawaristan are granted legal and democratic rights, was adopted. No response.

* On November 20, 2000, the NACL passed a unanimous resolution, and demanded that the reign of their motherland be handed over to them. At present, it is in the hands of a Pakistani, who is imposed as chief executive of the NACL in a patently undemocratic manner. The result of this demand was that NACL members were banned from entering any government offices.

Q.: How is this region administered by Pakistan?
A.: The KANA Division is the sole administrative authority. It enjoys autocratic powers, and no concurrent responsibilities. KANA has set up its administration in Balawaristan, where all appointments - from the peon to the highest-grade employees - are made from Pakistan, more specifically, from its NWFP province. Drugs and arms smugglers have also found a position in this administration. All posts - inspector general of police, chief secretary, force commander of the Northern Areas, or in the paramilitary forces, judiciary, education or financial institutions - are occupied by political appointees under the direction of Islamabad.

The minister of KANA, who is also called chief executive, Northern Areas, can depute any person from his NWFP constituency as head of the imposed Chief Court on contract basis. You can imagine the standard of justice provided by a contract judge to the indigenous people of Balawaristan on the instruction of his boss (minister of KANA). There is no High Court or Supreme Court in Balawaristan, and nobody is allowed to file a writ on a human rights violation or appeal against the decision of the Chief Court. This situation is made even graver by the fact that this contractor (who is called chairperson of the Chief Court) has the power to award death sentences to the local people. Local people are not allowed to become the head of any institution, whether it is related to the forces or civilian administration.

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