By Engineer Ali Rinchen
This year marks the 63rd anniversary of Pakistan's occupation, writes Engineer Ali Rinchen
The story of Gilgit-Baltistan is that of a free nation which passed under Pakistani occupation soon after its people failed to maintain their control over its land and resources. In the fall of 1947, just a few weeks after its soldiers revolted against the Dogras and ousted forces loyal to the Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir, the region was declared a free republic.
Fearing reprisal from the Dogra forces, the local military command asked Pakistan to provide diplomatic support. Pakistan did not waste much time advancing its political agenda in the region. Within a few weeks, it entered its forces and established direct control over Gilgit-Baltistan. It is the strategic location of the region, nestled between the four nations of Pakistan, Afghanistan, China and India, besides its unique natural resources that make it valuable.
Gilgit-Baltistan has a history of thousands of years of exploitation of its ravines as battlefields by colonial and imperial forces. After 63 years of Pakistani presence, the position is no different. The province has become a military garrison and staging post for militants and Pakistani secret service agents. Today, there is one Pakistani soldier for every 25 local habitants.
The people of Gilgit-Baltistan have since faced humiliation, suffering and political and emotional exploitation at the hands of their Pakistani rulers who treat them as captives and their land as a colony. Their story of freedom and self-determination has been transformed by Pakistani rulers into one of subsistence and marginalisation.
Gilgit-Baltistan is known for its matchless geographical wonders. It has the highest number of tallest mountains in the world including Chogori, otherwise known as Mount Godwin-Austen or K2 — the second tallest peak in the world. The stunning mountain ranges of the Himalayas, Karakoram, Ladakh and Hindukush converge here. The mighty Indus flows for the length of over 700 kilometres, bisecting the region. The land is abundant in deep blue lakes, white sand dunes, the longest glaciers in the world and the deepest mountain ravines. Yet its natives fail to benefit from its resources since the region’s revenue fills the coffers in Islamabad.
For Pakistanis, Gilgit-Baltistan is like a summer camping ground. They can be compared with the Mongols of the ninth century who conquered China but failed to see its variety of resources and the worth of its people. For them, China was only good for grazing pastures for their horses. Pakistani rulers share the same approach towards Gilgit-Baltistan.
Even in the 21st century, which is considered the era of globalisation and enlightenment, the natives of Gilgit-Baltistan continue to live in the Stone Age. The occupiers have deliberately neglected to develop the land according to the needs of its natives. Even today, a majority of them live below the poverty line and there are neighbourhoods in the vicinity of the urban ghettoes where residents lack access to electricity, schools, basic healthcare and clean drinking water. Given their immanent ethnic, linguistic and religious differences, Pakistani forces continue to torture and humiliate the natives while plundering their assets. When it comes to administration, the Pakistan Government has followed the policy of oppression they inherited from the British and the Dogras.
When assessed as a cultural, political, economic and environmental disaster, the situation has reached a point of no return. The recently promulgated self-governance and empowerment package has only sealed the fate of the natives and can be termed as an institutionalisation of slavery. The package has further facilitated Pakistani access to local resources and plunder will now continue without resistance. This fall, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan will be marking the 63rd year of the occupation of their land. Although time is running out, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan must rethink their options and implement strategies to save their unique environment, cultural identity and economic resources.
The writer is member, Board of Directors, Gilgit-Baltistan National Congress, Washington DC.