People of Gilgit-Baltistan face inhuman treatment: report

Weekly Bang-e-sahar Saturday May 24—-30,2008

Geneva: Gilgit-Baltistan is a part of Jammu and Kashmir. The area is of strategic importance as it has borders with Afghanistan and China. Since partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, and the coming into being of Pakistan, democratic and political freedom and human rights situation in Gilgit-Baltistan has been very bad and the population has been suffering. This was stated by Universal Periodic Review submitted to Belgian Association for Solidarity with Jammu and Kashmir at the second session of a conference in Brusseles recently. It said rights organizations in Pakistan itself have been raising voices against the inhuman treatment meted out to the people of this region by the Pakistan administration. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan calls the situation as volatile and is of the opinion that the federal government is directly responsible for this sorry state of affairs. Pakistani policymakers have kept the constitutional status of the area in a limbo, making the region an extraordinary example of political and judicial ambivalence. The unrest in Gilgit-Baltistan has been there for decades, leading to movements for self-governance and independence from the federal rule of Pakistan. In 2007, clashes claimed about 200 lives. The region lacks fundamental rights infrastructure. According to the well-known American human rights organization Freedom House, this region has been categorized ‘Not Free’. It does not have a democratically elected assembly, a constitution or an independent judiciary. It is ruled directly by the federal government in Islamabad through the Ministry for Kashmir and Northern Areas Affairs. There is no appeal against the judgments of the Judicial Commissioner. Pakistan’s Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over the area. The government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir is also under Pakistani administration and being a part of Jammu and Kashmir too doesn’t have any jurisdiction over Gilgit-Baltistan. Access to justice to all is a fundamental right, and that right cannot be exercised in the absence of an independent judiciary. Without formation of a High Court and a bench of the Supreme Court in the region, access to justice will remain an elusive dream. Pakistan never claimed Gilgit-Baltistan as belonging to its territory. The constitution of Pakistan and its map don’t show it as belonging to Pakistan. On the other hand, it does not show it as a part of Jammu and Kashmir either. At the same time Pakistan is not prepared to give it an independent status or to enable its people to adopt a modern transparent democratic system. They are closely watched by different ‘security agencies’ operating in Gilgit-Baltistan There is no representation of the people in the National Assembly. The locals need an exit permit for moving out of the area. Economically, the region is the most backward area. It doesn’t have basic infrastructure like roads, power supply, sanitation and health care. It has no university, no professional college, postgraduate facilities. No radio, no television station. There is just one weekly newspaper. Open discrimination in the matter of wages between the natives and those coming from outside is a blatant violation of human rights. The locals are paid 25% to 35% less than those coming from outside. The region is a Shia dominated area. Pakistan has always treated them as suspects. Demographic shifts are being engineered with an aggressive policy of resettlement by encouraging influx of Punjabis, Pathans and other people from the rest of Pakistan. Large tracts of land are being allotted to outsiders, who are liberally provided residency permits. Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne, Member of the European Parliament and Vice Chairperson of the European Union Committee on Foreign Affairs, writes in her report (adopted by the European Parliament during the plenary session of 24 May 2007): Pakistan still lacks full implementation of democracy in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and has yet to take steps towards democracy in Gilgit-Baltistan; Is concerned that the Gilgit-Baltistan region enjoys no form of democratic representation whatsoever; The people of Gilgit-Baltistann are under direct rule of the military and enjoy no democracy; Calls on Pakistan to hold elections for the first time in Gilgit-Baltistan; Deplores documented Human Rights violations by Pakistan including in Gilgit-Baltistan, where allegedly violent riots took place in 2004, and the all too frequent incidents of terror and violence perpetrated by armed militant groups; urges Pakistan to revisit its concepts of the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of religious practice in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan; Calls on the government of Pakistan to specifically address the issue of child rights and protection in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan and to target child trafficking more effectively; Draws particular attention to the democratic deficit in Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, where, regrettably, Pakistan has consistently failed to fulfill its obligations to introduce meaningful and representative democratic structures. Bad as the situation is in Azaad Jammu and Kashmir, it is infinitely worse in Gilgit-Baltistan, the northernmost area of Pakistan-Administered Kashmir, which enjoys no status or even the semblance of democratic representation; Gilgit-Baltistan (referred to as the Northern Areas by Pakistan) is administered by Pakistan. As Pakistan maintains that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir is disputed territory, it has not formally incorporated the Northern Areas. As such, it is neither a province of Pakistan nor a part of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. The Northern Areas Council, set up some time ago, with the boast that it is functioning like a ‘Provincial Assembly’, screens, in reality, a total absence of constitutional identity or civil rights; The people of Gilgit-Baltistan are kept in poverty, illiteracy and backwardness. The deprivation and lack of even very basic needs provision can be easily seen. A few locals are able to secure government jobs but even then they are paid up to 35% less than non-native employees; there is no local broadcast media; The 2005 earthquake, disastrous in itself, exacerbated all the above. It would be wholly irresponsible not to draw attention to this situation or to highlight these continuing injustices, and the report therefore underlines forcefully the need for Pakistan to revisit its concept of democratic accountability and to address the needs provision issue in the areas under its (de facto) control. JIHADI FUNDAMENTALISM AND ITS IMPACT ON HUMAN RIGHTS: Since military dictatorship was imposed in 1999, it became clear that jihadi infrastructure was not dismantled nor were moderate political parties allowed to push back against fundamentalists in the political arena. While claiming to fight extremism, the military was using its forces in Balochistan denying the anti-Taliban, secular Baloch parties their constitutional rights. Secular parties have been excluded from the tribal areas which have been increasingly overrun by jihadis resulting in a complete mismanagement in Balochistan and North-West Frontier Province. Ironically the policy has been to clamp down on the press and the judiciary to curb terrorism but in fact those who have been arrested are progressive, secular minded people while the terrorists are offered negotiations and ceasefires. As the military was filling the jails with lawyers and journalists, they were releasing militants, some of whom had been convicted of terrorism, in yet another deal with violent extremists. Pakistan also refused to close Taliban camps and jihadi madrasas or end extremist recruitment and fundraising. Pakistan has become a safe haven for terrorists. It has everything terrorists could ask for: political instability, a trusted network of radial Islamists, an abundance of angry anti-Western recruits, secluded training areas and security services that don’t always do what they are supposed to do. Terrorists and armed militants have turned much of the country, including some cities, into a base that gives them more room to maneuver, both internally and beyond. They come and go as they please inside Pakistan. They attend services at local mosques, where after prayers they speak to the congregation, soliciting donations to support the war against the West. Their sick and injured are taken care of in private hospitals. Guns and supplies are readily available.
CONCLUSIONS: Asma Jahangir, special UN rapporteur on Human Rights, appeals to the friends of Pakistan to urge the US administration to stop all support of the dictator, as his lust for power is bringing the country close to a worse form of civil strife. She believes that Musharraf has to be taken out of the equation and a government of national reconciliation to be put in place. It must be backed by the military. Short of this there are no realistic solutions. Military training, cooperation and aid should be reviewed. At the same time aid for education, poverty reduction, healthcare and relief work should be expanded, channeling money through secular non-governmental organizations (NGOs) Successive Pakistani governments, which call for ‘basic human rights’ in the Indian Jammu and Kashmir state, ignore these very rights in the case of the Northern Areas and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Militants, fundamentalists and even the government of Pakistan have argued that in the Kashmir case, the special concept of jihad or holy war applies, which supersedes all international humanitarian laws but in a world of myriad religions and ways of life, no one religious interpretation can substitute for internationally accepted standards and law.
Democracy is not only more acceptable than military rule, but would reduce the influence of fundamentalist Islamists significantly. Speak out unequivocally for democracy in Pakistan, rejecting the idea that martial law is needed for stability, and demand a return to constitutional order. What are needed are political solutions to conflicts and improved long-term security. None of this will be easy to implement but it offers more hope than more of the same. Pakistan needs change: it can only begin when military dictatorship goes and democracy returns.


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