Identity, Equality, Unity
New Delhi: In Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan’s only Shia dominated province ethnic cleansing is being carried out systematically, away from media glare and international attention. Hundreds of Shia Muslims staged a protest in front of the Lahore Press Club on April 10th urging the media to pressurize the Pakistani government to stop the atrocities on its community in Gilgit Baltistan. On April 9th a rally was held in Kargil against targeted killings in GB and local leaders appealed to the Indian government to take up the issue with the international community.
Gilgit Baltistan formerly known, as Northern Areas was once part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, which India terms as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Maps in India still show Gilgit Baltistan or Northern Areas or PoK as a region within Indian Territory. An Indian parliamentary resolution of 1994 states, “Pakistan must vacate the areas of the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir, which they have occupied through aggression.”
That resolution is gathering dust in some library because we are desperately hunting for confidence building measures with our nuclear neighbour, and in the seventeen years since that resolution was passed, most of India, even Kashmiris, are oblivious to the goings on in Gilgit Baltistan. Laying a claim on that part of Kashmir is not considered ”pragmatic” or ”practical”, hence it doesn’t figure in Indian official discourse. But that doesn’t prevent Pakistan from meddling in the affairs of that part of Kashmir, which is in India’s control.
The Indian foreign office makes no comments on what happens in PoK, treating it, for all practical purposes, as an internal matter of Pakistan – though according to the Indian parliamentary document it is illegally in Pakistani control. The unanimously passed parliamentary resolution of 1994 also “expresses regret and concern at the pitiable conditions and violations of human rights and denial of democratic freedoms of the people in those areas of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, which are under illegal occupation of Pakistan.”
Pakistan foreign office rarely comments on the affairs of Gilgit Baltistan, as officially GB’s status is ambiguous. This impoverished area is governed under the Gilgit Baltistan Order of 2009, which doesn’t give the people of this region the same rights as the rest of Pakistan.
Since the beginning of April scores of Shias are being killed ruthlessly. The estimates number from 40 to 400. The numbers cannot be verified as the area is out of bound for the media or foreigners. In attacks on some public transport vehicles, over 300 men were abducted and nobody has heard of them since. Their families are not hopeful of finding even their bodies. In Chilas male passengers were physically examined for telltale marks of self-flagellation (Shia) and then executed. In Nagar there are rumours of 30 being stoned to death.
Locals say that the Kohistan and Chilas incidents where cold-blooded mass murders took place were planned and supported by the Pakistani establishment, which is bent on terrorising the people and changing the demographics of GB.
Terror camps which were being run here openly with the active support of the Pakistani Army have bred hundreds of Sunni jihads of the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) who are running loose now all across Gilgit Baltistan, killing Shia Muslims. Interior Minister Rehman Malik tried to deny the sectarian nature of the conflict saying some “hidden forces are involved.” But the Inspector General of Gilgit Baltistan, Hussain Asghar went on record to say, “I don’t think there is any foreign hand involved in the sectarian riots.”
Gilgitis have been voicing their concern for several years now that their region is under Taliban attack from the Waziristan region and being used as safe havens for jehadis, supported by the Salafi elements in the Pakistan Army.
At the 13th session of the UN Human Rights Council Abdul Hamid Khan of the Balwaristan National Front said, “Human rights abuses are widespread and common in Gilgit Baltistan for many decades but the absence of local media and independent judiciary have helped Islamabad to hide its illicit practices…”
Shias, Ismailis and moderate Sunnis are under threat in Gilgit Baltistan as ethnic cleansing is systematically being carried out by radical elements in Pakistani society. Due to the vital link to China through the Karakoram Highway, GB is a strategic asset for Pakistan. The demographic change it seeks to do there is with aim of bringing the region into its iron grip with total disregard to human rights and international law.