Freedom Storm Brews In Northern Areas
6 July 2003
The Daily Excelsior
Dr Golam Yazdani
Jammu: The Northern Areas of the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) have witnessed violent protests in the last few days against the junta's decision to introduce the Islamiat curriculum in educational institutions and following attempt to kill Nawaz Khan Naji, acting Chairman of Balwaristan National Front (BNF). Unable to tackle the protests, the administration has deployed the Army in Gilgit town of Northern Areas to tackle the situation. Naji was attcked by three local policemen while he was travelling in a jeep in Gakuch area of Ghezer district of Northern Areas on June 20, 2003. The local Shia community is agitated over the Government's move to introduce the new curriculum because it was in conflict with their 'school of thought.' Media reports from Pakistan said that the agitation and boycotting of classes against the controversial curriculum turned violent last week when a mob reportedly tried to shut down an Army-run school in Gilgit. The administration has deployed the Army and the Frontier Constabulary in Gilgit city following violent protests during the past fortnight in which scores of people were injured. In view of the deteriorating law and order situation, the administration has imposed Section 144 in the city, banning assembly of more than four people, carrying of arms and use of loud speakers. The administration has said that discussions are on between the leaders of the Shia community and the officials of the Federal Education Ministry. There have been no infrastructure development in the Northern Areas and as such people remained poor and under developed. Most of the Government jobs go to Punjabis and Pakhtoons who have forcibly encroached landed property with the help of Pakistan army. Northern Areas have no industry and technical institutions. The local boys who have completed graduation are doing manual jobs in hotels and shops. The Northern Areas is full of mineral resources which are tapped by the Central Government and this is the reason they have kept it under its direct control. Writing in the Friday Times (Lahore), its editor Khaled Hasan has also confirmed that Northern Areas are an integral part of Jammu & Kashmir state but it is Pakistan Government that administers them. Tracing its history, Khaled Hasan said that while Pakistan assumed direct control of the Northern Areas, a term unknown before 1947, it chose to administer them until the early 1970s under the Notorious Frontier Crime Regulations. The Joint secretary of Kashmir Affairs Ministry replaced British resident exercising absolute control authority but it did not bother to look after the welfare of the people who lived there on the edge of starvation. The assumption of control by Pakistan of Northern Areas is based on the so-called Karachi Agreement, which is of doubtful legality, signed as it was by Choudhary Ghulam Abbas in 1949 in his capacity as head of Muslim Conference. Although the Karachi Agreement cearly recognised that Northern Areas is part of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), its writ was never allowed to run ther. Every Pakistani Government, civilian or military, has treated this region as part of Pakistan without giving the residents their basic rights. No doubt, there is a Northern Areas Council but its role is advisory. The people have no recourse to courts either in PoK or Pakistan. Although Northern Areas is part of Jammu & Kashmir, Pakistan transferred 2500 sq miles of its area to China under the Pakistan-China boundary agreement of 2nd March 1962. It is in this context that people of Northern Areas have started a movement to free themselves from the yoke of Pakistan military dictatorship. This movement is being spearheaded jointly by the All-Parties National Alliance (APNA), the Gilgit-Baltistan National Alliance (GBNA) and other political groups. These organizations have also raised their voice against cross-border terrorism being aided and abetted by the military regime in Pakistan. APNA, GBNA, the Jammu and Kashmir National Awami Party (JKNAP) and several Kashmir-based political organizations have welcomed the latest Indo-Pak peace initiative of Prime Minister Vajpayee and hoped that it would lead to the resolution of the Kashmir issue. At the same time, the Kashmiri leaders have demanded that 'the core party in the dispute, the people of Jammu and Kashmir, should have full representation in the process through genuine representatives.'. APNA had organised a 'black day' on April 28 for it was on this day they said that 'Karachi Agreement' was signed between Pakistan and that of the so-called 'Azad' Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) Government in 1949. Following this agreement, Gilgit-Baltistan, the so-called Northern Areas, which are geographically and historically part of Jammu & Kashmir, were given to Pakistan by the support rulers of PoK. The sources said that the participation of the general public in various civilian protest programmes has increased since then. Early this month, the JKNAP had organised an international convention, which was attended by APNA leaders from PoK. 'Speakers at the convention expressed their dissatisfaction with the political, economic, constitutional and legal system introduced by Pakistan in the PoK and the Northern Areas'. The speakers at the convention alleged that there was 'no sign of democracy, no economic and social justice, no constitution and no rule of law whatsoever throughout Pakistan and in its extensions, wherever they are, be it 'Azad Kashmir' or the Northern Areas. Everything is subservient to the needs of the armed forces, especially a tiny minority in the forces. This minority in the armed forces is a law unto itself.' Commenting on the developments, the Dawn of Islamabad in an editorial said that the economic conditions of the poor cannot improve because these areas do not form part of any existing administrative unit of Pakistan and are governed directly by Islamabad for all practical purposes and have no representation in the National Assembly. The daily also blamed the Federal Government 'for allowing enterprising Pathans from the neighbouring NWFP districts to settle down in the Northern Areas where they have taken over local trades besides bringing in and enforcing their own cultural values and mores that have been the cause of serious conflict in recent years.'