People in Gilgit want self-rule
6 December 2004
Gilgit: There are divergent opinions about a final solution to the Kashmir problem in the Northern Areas (NA) which are under the direct control of Pakistan. But there is a consensus on seeking self-rule and restoration of rights such as state subject. The people are also against having someone from Islamabad head the local administration. The first impression on arriving here was no different from what a delegation of Indian journalists got recently in Mirpur and Muzaffarabad of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. At Gilgit airport, members of the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front staged a demonstration, seeking an 'Independent Kashmir.'They were, however, not allowed to meet the journalists. 'We are happy that such developments [the journalists' visit] are taking place. But we want to tell both India and Pakistan to leave us alone, that is in the interest of both,' a local JKLF leader, Ziaul Haque, later said. A fairly prosperous and developed area, Gilgit is one of the six districts in the region. Till 1994, the Northern Areas were under the complete control of Islamabad. However, with dissent growing, the Pakistan Government has started giving the people a sense of belonging. However, they are not satisfied. The Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC) has 24 elected members, 12 nominated women and technocrat members. The chief executive of the Northern Areas is Pakistan's Minister for Kashmir Affairs and the deputy chief executive is one among the 24 elected members , who they say has very limited powers. In addition to the chief secretary, all the top officials are from the Pakistan Government. 'This is complete annexation,' said Murtaza Hussain, a businessman. 'The people here want real change.' Not satisfied Some elected members of the NALC reaffirmed their support to Pakistan but said that if a solution to the Kashmir problem was reached, 'we should be consulted and we will decide then.' Fida Mohammad Naushad, a former NALC deputy chairman, said he was not satisfied with the present arrangement. 'The chief executive should be from the Northern Areas. How can be there someone from Peshawar or Islamabad ruling us?' 'In matters of development we do not have any complaint; we are ahead of Azad Kashmir,' he added. Mohammad Ibrahim Sanai, who represents the Pakistan Muslim League said: 'We are going through a transitional period. We do have constitutional problems, but Pakistan's interest is our interest, it is our country.' Ghulam Mohammad of the Pakistan People's Party's said that the people wanted self-rule as in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. 'We are part of erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir, so why discrimination?' he asked. His views were echoed by other members of council. Many others said they were happy with Pakistan. 'We have no problems. We fought for being with Pakistan,' said Aijaz Hussain, a student. There is, however, a strong lobby that wants to carve out a separate State, comprising Ladakh in India and the Northern Areas. It is called 'Balwaristan'. The general secretary of the Balwaristan National Front, Abid Ali, says there can be no compromise on this. Pashtun dominance Another burning issue is the 'dominance' of the Pashtuns, who control over 60 per cent of the economy of Gilgit-Baltistan. Manzoor Hussain, a local, said: 'They are purchasing land here expanding business and one day they will throw us out.' The recently established 14-party Gilgit- Baltistan National Alliance is striving for restoration of internal autonomy in the region. It is headed by Major (retired) Hussain Shah.