Manzoor Hussain Parwana | Chief Editor, Kargil International
The vast Gilgit-Baltistan area, comprising over 28,000 square kilometres, is both geographically and historically crucial in the contemporary context.
Located in the lap of three major mountain ranges shared between India, Pakistan, and China - the Karakoram, Himalayas and Hindukush - and sometimes referred to as the "Bank of Mountains", the region is also globally known for the Siachen Glacier and K2 mountain ranges. In the light of UN resolutions on Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan is a disputed territory between India and Pakistan and the fate of its people is yet to be decided.
Unfortunately, Gilgit-Baltistan has been entirely and consistently ignored during the past 58 years, even as its people continue to suffer. Both India and Pakistan have disregarded their plight. The battles of Siachen and Kargil were fought over this peaceful region, but there is little development there. The struggles of the people have gone unnoticed. The politics of violence and guns suppresses the voice of the people. In fact, both the countries have converted this region into a "zone of silence", failing to acknowledge the crises there.
No wonder there is no hope for human rights and the people of this region have been deprived of all social and political rights - self-governance, a free and fair judiciary, free press, decent livelihood, welfare, and educational progress. Gilgit-Baltistan has been rightly described as the last colony of the world.
Pakistan and India appear to be taking the course of peace. They are making efforts to resolve the Kashmir issue through peaceful negotiations and multi-track diplomacy, which is commendable. However, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan have again been ignored in these peace processes and no attention is being paid to the sensibilities and aspirations of the inhabitants of this region.
Instead of including those who identify with the nationalistic aspirations of Gilgit-Baltistan, the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and other organisations are being taken into confidence. The APHC has no right to represent Gilgit-Baltistan, as it has no presence in the region. It is only the people of Gilgit-Baltistan who have the right over this land and the right to decide its fate.
The people of Gilgit-Baltistan reject all the decisions of India and Pakistan that have been reached without taking them into confidence and without including their representative groups in negotiations on the Jammu & Kashmir issue, and reserve the right to decide about their liberation, self-determination or accession.
A conference on the theme, "Jammu & Kashmir: Alternative Futures" in Manesar, near Delhi, created the opportunity to focus on the region. Perhaps for the first time in history, it was marked by significant participation of delegates from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit-Baltistan. Without attempting to prescribe any "formula" or "roadmap", delegates deliberated to evolve a set of principles to guide efforts towards a resolution, as well as practical measures to provide immediate relief to the people of all regions of Jammu & Kashmir.
The resolution of the "Kashmir dispute" can only arise out of such a principled approach and practical steps to strengthen the peace process and cement the bonds between people by increasing people-to-people contact. Self-rule in regions like Gilgit-Baltistan and other areas, where full civil and political rights are not available, is a first step to bring these regions to par with areas where such rights already exist.
The restoration of the State Subject Rule, which denies property rights to the outsiders, is also necessary to address the problem of the changing demography of Gilgit-Baltistan. Other issues of concern include opening of the Kargil-Sarkuda road, demilitarisation of Gilgit-Baltistan, promotion of human rights, development and freedom of the press, elimination of the role of Government agencies in the development sector and appointment of local bureaucrats in the region.
The demand for the evacuation of armed forces from the disputed region and an end to all varieties of terrorism and extremism have also been repeatedly voiced.
Immediate measures of relief include a proposal to provide seats for students from PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan in premier educational institutions in India to increase their interaction with rest of the country and reduce distances.
The delegates from PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan also held meetings with the Home Minister, the National Security Advisor and the Foreign Secretary. Assurances were given that peaceful talks would continue and that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan would also be included in future discussions. The delegation made it clear that any resolution passed while ignoring the people of this region would not be acceptable.
The Delhi visit of delegations from PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan has dissolved a distance of 58 years in just three days. It is hoped that the various resolutions unanimously passed by delegates from all parts of Jammu & Kashmir during the "Alternative Futures" conference will be accepted by both India and Pakistan.
After all, these resolutions articulate the problems of the inhabitants of all the regions and propose new ways of resolution.
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