On behalf of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, I write this rebuttal to Mr. Lord Nazir Ahmad and Mir Waiz Omar Farooq for condemning the provincial status of Gilgit-Baltistan. Indeed “it’s an honor to have few of the elitist leaders of Kashmir to decide about the future of Gilgit-Baltistan”. Let’s not forget, however, that Mr. Ahmad does not know nor has seen Gilgit-Baltistan, and cannot fathom how the people of GB feel about Kashmiri leadership.
This condemnation comes as no surprise for the locals, who have become so desensitized to the continuous neglect from Kashmiri leadership on international forums. My point is not to lambast the leadership without any logic, but to point out the differences between the two nations. Ironically, all we have heard from them regarding GB is the condemnation of the Self Governance & Empowerment Ordinance 2009; they never pay heed to the people of GB and their identity. This may help them on the Kashmiri side of the LOC, but their actions are brewing hatred for them in Gilgit-Baltistan.
In a recent encounter with Mir Waiz Omar Farooq, a local parliamentarian from Gilgit-Baltistan, Minister Sadia Danish questioned his stance about current status of GB. Ignoring her question about the efforts of the Kashmiri leadership for GB, he simply indulged in empty rhetoric, stating: “When we talk about Kashmir we talk of 1947 Jammu and Kashmir. Our movement is indigenous and Kashmiris have sacrificed a lot during last 20 years.” However, he neglected to mention the sacrifices of the people of GB. While stressing the need for a solution for the Kashmir issue and criticizing the silence of the international community, he paid no heed to how the indigenous leadership of Kashmir has been ignorant about GB. His demand to keep GB incognito unless the Kashmir issue is resolved shows how sympathetic he is towards the people of GB and their demand of identity ad the fifth province or getting an Azad Kashmir type of Governance.
Most of the people in GB are sympathetic to Kashmiris’ grievances, support their cause, and appreciate their efforts for their rights. At the same time, that does not allow them to overlook the existence of another region which is strategically more important than any other. Ignorant statements from the Kashimiri camp are widening the gap between both the regions. Prohibiting the leadership of Gilgit-Baltistan from being included in international forums is a pre-planned strategy of the powerful Kashmiri camps across the world. The indigenous leadership from Gilgit-Baltistan has a stake in the well-being of the region, and they are the true representatives of GB not leaders from Kashmir.
Therefore, it is of utmost importance to have representation of the local leadership in order to address the real grievances of GB. They are, after all, the stakeholders of Gilgit-Baltistan and they have every right to defend the interests of their region. There is a tremendous blooming of leadership from GB after six decades of leaderless nation. They will speak on behalf of their own people. They are nothing like the entities that are unaware local issues and have no stake in the region. GB has one of the highest literacy rates in the region, and I am sure they will deal with their issues way better than anyone else.
People of GB have always been compassionate towards the issue of Kashmir. However, the absurd statements from Kashmiri leaders are denting their sympathies towards Kashmir. Such leaders’ baseless and contradictory claims about the history of GB and Kashmir are proving to be very aggravating to the people of GB and its semi-provincial status. The recent statements by elite Kashmiri leaders like Mir Waiz and Lord Nazir are hollow and myopic. Not to forget, the people of GB have fought their own wars against the Dogra Raj of Kashmir as well as the freedom war for Kashmiris. Ignoring the sacrifices made by people of this region for Kashmir will sabotage the healthy relations between both regions.
Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan are two separate entities, with cultural differences and geo-strategic importance’s. Ignoring the existence of the leadership and people of GB and identity may not help Kashmiri leadership in GB and hence may lose their fellows who have always stood for them. Mir Waiz Omar farooq and Lord Nazir Ahmad owe an apology to people of Gilgit-Baltistan over their statements against their self governance ordinance. And we urge international community to acknowledge the indigenous leadership of GB as true representatives of the region.
Dr. Zaeem Zia is a scholar on health policy and management from Johns Hopkin’s and Oklahoma University and tweets as @ZaeemZia