A friend asked me to join a conference in Azad Kashmir in 2001. The motive of the conference was discussion about the future of Indian Jammu and Kashmir including Azad Kashmir in Pakistan; where I was honored to meet many distinguished participants and politicians from both sides of the Line of Control. Former President of Azad Kashmir Mr. Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan was also one of the speakers. Indeed, he is one of the most influential politicians of Kashmir and has served “people of Kashmir” as a president for 4 terms, in 1956, 1971, 1985 and 1991 and premier in 1996. Mr. Khan No doubt is a political institution for Azad and Jammu Kashmir. Talking about the boundaries of Kashmir, he added that Gilgit-Baltistan, then Northern Areas of Pakistan, is integral part of Kashmir.
A little surprised with his claim of Gilgit-Baltistan, I raised my hand and requested if he could further explain his claims about Gilgit-Baltistan. I always considered him as a Kashmiri leader, not as a leader of Gilgit-Baltistan. Kashmiri leaders have always been indifferent about that part of the world, which they claim to be their integral part. My queries were what they have done for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan “aka” integral part of Kashmir during last 60 years. What efforts had Kashmiri leaders put to help people of GB to get their identity and self governance to overcome their grievances, about the educational opportunities for the students of GB in Azad Kashmir University and about the false reference of the history after 1857? Mr. Khan could not find answers and defended his statement with anger and questioning my presence in the conference. In fact, there was no representation of Gilgit-Baltistan in the conference and Mr. Khan was speaker on behalf of GB as well. This is what had been happening since the inception of Gilgit-Baltistan. Their leaders were not given a chance to express the political will of people of the region and were always kept at the mercy of Kashmiri leadership.
In 2009, when Gilgit-Baltistan ultimately received its self governance ordinance signed by the President of Pakistan H.E Asif Ali Zardari, people of the region were jubilated. It was for the first time ever that people of GB had to have their own Chief Minister and Governor. This was indeed a tipping point for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, who were chronically oppressed due to the lack of representation in the federal politics and government. In fact, for the first time, Gilgit-Baltistan was in the lime light, after a long standing neglect. Ironically, it was people of Gilgit-Baltistan who helped liberation of Kashmir, which is Azad Kashmir now, but they were disregarded and Kashmiri leaders enjoyed their perks in terms of their semi-state status. Kashmiris have ruled their own land since 1950’s.
The venomous condemnation of the Gilgit-Baltistan self governance ordinance 2009, by the Kashimiri leadership was the evidence of their intolerance towards the prosperity of the region. While in an interview Yaseen Malik termed Gilgit-Baltistan ordinance a bullet for Kashmiris, and their proxy Amanullah khan condemned the package calling it against the greater interest of Kashmir and Pakistan. Ironically, for them the existence of people of Gilgit-Baltistan is like a commodity. Their basic human rights were totally ignored in the name of ‘greater interest of Kashmir’. Their lust for power, fame and supremacy was the main reason of deprivation of the basic of rights people of GB. On the other hand, media ignored the miseries of Gilgit-Baltistan, treating them like third rate citizens. The statements of the Kashmiri leaders echoed in the media nationwide, but the voice of people and leaders of Gilgit-Baltistan was suppressed causing deeper sense of deprivation.
Most recent episode of threats to burn down the Gilgit-Baltistan’s transport services to Azad Kashmir by Kashmiri leaders is another evidence of their intolerance against the GB. But this proved blessing in disguise that people of Gilgit-Baltistan came to understand further “deep love” of Kashmiri leadership for not just GB, but whole nation. It is high time for both the Governments of Gilgit-Baltistan and Federal government to take action against those who aimed to harm the property of Gilgit-Baltistan, which Kashmiri leaders claim to be their “integral” part. The Kashmiri leaders who incited the aggression against people, property and integrity of GB should be penalized.
The reference of Kashmiri leaders to claim Gilgit-Baltistan is an analogue to the notion that India and Pakistan are the same country since they were ruled by British for more than a century. People of GB celebrate their independence from Kashmir/Dogra Raj on 1st November like India and Pakistan do on 14th and 15th August respectively. Pakistan and India are two different countries despite of the same history; same applies to GB and Kashmir also.
It is of utmost importance for the people to understand the differences of culture, values and political dynamics and strategic importance of both the regions. Gilgit-Baltistan is strategically more important than any other part of the region, yet remained unknown for the world; thanks to “independent” media and to the stake holders on both sides of LOC.
The people of Gilgit-Baltistan understand and appreciate the sacrifices of Kashmiri brethren for their rights. History is evident, that Gilgit-Baltistan always stood by Kashmir whenever they needed. They never envy Kashmir of having their own assembly, leaders and governmental set up. In return we expect Kashimiri leaders and people to respect the sovereignty of Gilgit-Baltistan, its leadership and its people. Likewise both of the nations on either sides of the border need to understand the identity of Gilgit-Baltistan and it should not be confused with Azad, Jammu and Kashmir. This will favor the harmony among both regions. People of Gilgit-Baltistan will realize the endorsement of their Identity, which is the basic human right. They also have a right to express their identity on both national and international forums about the Kashmir dispute and Gilgit-Baltistan as much as Kashmiris have. We appreciate the efforts of Kashmiri leaders like Sardar Abdul Qayyum Khan, Yaseen Malik and other JKLF leaders for Kashmir and Kashmiri’s, however we earnestly entreat them to avoid poking their nose in the internal integrity, affairs and interests of people of Gilgit-Baltistan. And we do not want them to represent GB in international forums as this is purely responsibility and right of the leaders who hail from GB. It is them who have the right to decide about future of Gilgit-Baltistan.
I wish happy Independence Day (1st November) of Gilgit-Baltistan, and let’s pay tribute to the heroes of who spared their lives for a better future of their generations to come.