RUSSELS: The two-day conference on constitutional, political and socio-economic conditions of Gilgit-Baltistan organized under the banner of International Kashmir Alliance concluded at the European Parliament on April 9. However, the refusal of visas to nationalist leaders of Gilgit-Baltistan to attend the event drew flak from all walks of political spectrum.
Addressing the participants of the conference on April 8, Balawaristan National Front (BNF)’s exiled Chairman Abdul Hamid Khan said, “I want to draw your attention towards the fact that all the invitees from Balawaristan to this conference were not given visas by Belgium embassy at Islamabad.
On the other hand, dozens of Pakistani nationals disguising themselves as Kashmiris were given visas for another conference which ended here just a week ago. We do not expect such an injustice from a democratic country in the centre of European Union.”
The conference was organized to highlight the plight and miseries of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and constitutional and political deprivation of the area.
Members of the European Parliament from all political groups, civil society organizations, journalists, intellectuals and academicians from all over the world including Kashmiri Diaspora participated in the conference. Prominent member European Parliament and vice-chair Foreign Affair Committee and sub-committee on human rights Baroness Emma Nicholson was guest of honor in both the sessions.
Dilating on the status of Gilgit-Baltistan, the BNF chief Abdul Hamid Khan said politically the region had remained largely unrepresented
since November 16, 1947.
“We do not find anybody who could be called the elected representative of the people, for legislation and administration. This region has no representation in Pakistan or India nor in Jammu and Kashmir; neither it has an independent representative assembly of its own.
He said like Pakistan India also did not fulfil its obligation for giving representation to Balawaristan in its parliament.
He said though 25 seats have been reserved in the Indian occupied Kashmir assembly and six seats in Indian parliament for Balawaristan and AJK, but political parties have never been invited to fill these seats.
About judiciary, he recalled that Fauzia Saleem Abbas, an ex-member of Northern Areas Council, had filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1994 against the denial of basic human rights to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.
The apex court in its famous verdict in 1999 said the Chief Court of Northern Areas shall exercise all powers and perform all functions which were vested with the court of judicial commissioner of the region.
He said due to international pressure, security agencies kept the file in pending for five years. The Supreme Court in its verdict acknowledged that Pakistan had deprived the people of Gilgit-Baltistan of their basic rights since 1947. The court directed the government to make arrangements through amendments to the constitution to grant basic human rights, and the right to govern, to the people of this region.
But the apex court’s verdict has still not been implemented in letter and spirit, he regretted.
He said there was no freedom of expression in Gilgit-Baltistan. Over 200 political leaders, workers and religious people were tortured, sent behind bars when they dared to express their views on the situation.
He said media was never allowed to function and flourish as authorities have always discouraged any attempt to launch indigenous independent media in the region. Numerous instances of victimization and banning of weekly and monthly magazines have been reported and complaints lodged with the UN human rights commission.
Independent local newspapers were either closed and their editors implicated in sedition cases or were pressured to change editorial policy.
Journalists working for print and electronic media are continuously being harassed by law-enforcement agencies when they express their dissent against the government policies.
He referred to the recent police brutality against media persons and said local journalist Sharafuddin Faryad was tortured by police during a government function in Gilgit City.
As a result, he was hospitalized. Similar acts of violence against journalists have become order of the day. The local newspapers are denied advertisements whenever they criticize government policies.
Hamid Khan said the area remained deprived of genuine political representation since the establishment of Pakistan. No credible political institution could be evolved during the last 61 years except creation of some dummy NAsC in the 1970s when people’s grievances began to surface in the political form. However, its name was changed in to NALC (Northern Areas Legislative Council). But political domain is completely controlled and run by the federal minister for KANA, who heads the NALC and assumes all superior, administrative, judicial and financial powers. General Musharraf again changed its name to Northern Areas Legislative Assembly. But still the same minister exercises all powers and can dissolve this elected body when he wishes so. NALA has no power for legislation, it can only submit its resolution to the minister based in Islamabad who is not representative of the area. It is his discretionary power whether to accept the resolution or not.
He said Pakistan had also been violating State Subject Rule, which was introduced before independence of Pakistan to protect the economy, history and culture of the indigenous people. As a result, Pakistan has almost changed the demography of the region by settling outsiders here.