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Underground dissent looms over PoK

Underground dissent looms over PoK

Publication: www.tehelka.com
Date: November 27, 2001
URL: http://www.tehelka.com/channels/currentaffairs/2001/nov/26/ca112601pok.htm

The underground political movement of Pakistan-occupied Gilgit and Baltistan look to India for support in highlighting the oppression and deprivation faced by their people at the hands of Pakistani governments down the years, says V K Shashikumar

New Delhi, November 26

An unknown freedom struggle is quietly taking shape in Pakistan. Leaders of an underground political movement in Pakistan-occupied Gilgit and Baltistan (POGB) are appealing to India to highlight the plight of the "two million downtrodden people" that they claim to represent. People living in the so-called Northern Areas (originally part of the undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir) have been "kept in slavery, and deprived of human rights, political rights, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of movement, right to justice, economic and cultural freedom," says Abdul Hamid Khan, chairperson, Balawaristan National Front (BNF).

BNF is spearheading a political movement for the liberation of POGB. Khan, like most BNF leaders, is living on the run. "Our lives are in danger, and we are wary of Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) agents getting to know our whereabouts," he said. POGB is a very resource rich, as also strategically positioned, area.

"Balawaristan extends from Shinaki Kohistan to Chitral, and from Khunjrab to Baltistan and Ladakh," Khan told tehelka.com from somewhere in POGB. According to him, the Balawar nation includes the Balti, Brooshoo (Yashkon), Sheen, Khoh (Chitrali) and Wakhi people, and those Kashmiris, Gujjars, Kohistanis, Pathans, Turks and Hazaris who inhabited Gilgit-Baltistan before November 1, 1947. On this day, elements of 6 J&K Regiment rebelled against the Maharaja Hari Singh, and arrested the governor, Brigadier Ghansara Singh, appointed by the ruler.

According to Khan, the Government of India, through its High Commission, "maintains liaison links" with the BNF, but it has done nothing to highlight the Pakistani oppression in POGB. With the world's attention riveted to eliminating terrorism and preventing countries from sponsoring it, the BNF hopes that the world community will pressurise Pakistan to lift its iron curtain over POGB.

"We, the people of POGB, are victims of Pakistani sectarian terrorism. The ISI sends hundreds of Pakistani, Afghani and Kashmiri terrorists across the border to carry out terrorist activities in Indian-held Kashmir, by using our soil from Baltistan and Astore. In retaliation, the Indian Army killed many of our people, and destroyed our properties, displacing hundreds of civilians. Many of our innocent youth belonging to the Wahabi sect were instigated by the ISI and sent to Afghanistan and Indian-held Kashmir to fight against the Northern Alliance and the Indian Army, respectively. Hundreds of our young Northern Light Infantry (NLI) soldiers were used by Pakistan during the Kargil conflict as canon fodder," Khan told tehelka.

The BNF wants the US-led international coalition against terrorism to take appropriate action against Pakistan for sponsoring terrorism, not only in Jammu and Kashmir, but also in POGB. "Pakistan is now part of the international coalition, but that does not absolve it from its support for terrorism," says Khan. "The United States should beware of those who disguise themselves as anti-terrorists to evade the grip of the civilised world," he added.

The leadership of the movement for Balawaristan says, "The tentacles of the Taliban and Al Qaeda were only seen when the US came under terrorist attack on September 11." BNF leaders want the international community to take note of the fact that Pakistan, and not Afghanistan, is the centre of "terror factories".

"We, the people of POGB are seriously concerned about terrorism, having been prey to it for almost a decade. The Pakistan government, whether military or civil, has been providing unlimited funds and powers to the ISI to establish more and more terrorist training camps and other facilities to terrorise its opponents in Pakistan, POGB, POK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir), Afghanistan, Indian-held Kashmir (IOK) and other countries. ISI recruits unemployed youth of a particular sect (Sunni) and brainwashes them against other sects of Islam, such as Shia, Ismailia and Brelvi moderate Muslims, as also other religions by terming them 'infidels'."

Says Khan, "The campaign of killing Shia Muslims throughout Pakistan, and the assassination of a top Brelvi Muslim leader Maulana Saleem Qadri by Sipah-e-Sahabah and Jaish-e-Mohammad in Karachi, was an example of such terrorism being nourished by the ISI." He says that a genocide campaign against the Shia Muslims of Gilgit in 1988 by General Zia-ul-Haq, and the death of NLI soldiers who were sent to the heights of Kargil, were part of the ISI conspiracy against the powerless and helpless people of POGB. The ISI's ultimate aim was to pave the way for the Taliban to conquer this disputed region forever.

"The Afghani and Pakistani Pathans and other Wahabi terrorists torched more than two dozen Shia mosques, along with the holy Quran. Hundreds of people were killed; many were converted to the Wahabi sect in military camps. Many girls kidnapped at that time are still untraced. Hundreds of our people were forced to abandon their properties in different parts of Gilgit," says Khan.

Speaking about the Kargil misadventure, Khan says, "900 NLI soldiers died, hundreds became disabled, and 40 soldiers, including a major, are still missing. Pakistan disowned the sacrifices of our youth (NLI soldiers) by terming the Kargil misadventure an act of so-called Kashmiri terrorists (Pakistan calls them as 'mujahideen'). The bodies of 300 NLI soldiers were buried on the Kargil mountains. Pakistan had refused to accept them, just as it did recently, when the dead bodies of some Pakistani terrorists were brought from Afghanistan, when they were killed in US air attack. Pakistan only accepted two dead bodies of its own nationals in the Kargil War."

The BNF wants the US to aggressively push for democracy with Pakistan. "Countries that prevent the peaceful political activities of opponents should be punished. Otherwise, terrorism cannot be eliminated. Pakistan does not allow political activities of nationalist parties in its occupied areas. All that the parties in these areas ask for is their birthright of freedom," says Khan. More than 120 political workers and leaders of POGB were arrested and tortured, and sedition charges (section 124 A) were registered against them.

The people of POGB have no right of appeal in a higher court. If a person residing in Gilgit-Baltistan is sentenced to death by the judicial system put in place by Pakistan, that person has no right of appeal in any High Court or Supreme Court. The court in POGB does not entertain even writ petitions against human rights violations. "The judicial system imposed by Pakistan in POGB has the power to award death sentences to the local people, and can confiscate their property arbitrarily. The government of Pakistan has not complied even with the orders of its own Supreme Court, which had declared in 1999 that the chief court in POGB be upgraded to a higher court, and that political rights be devolved to the local people," Khan told tehelka.

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