Rough Road Ahead For Separatist Member Of Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly

Rough Road Ahead For Separatist Member Of Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly

20 May 2011
Global India Newswire
Senge H. Sering

Washington DC: On April 28, 2011, Nawaz Naji of Balawaristan National Front (BNF) defeated the candidates of both Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP, the ruling party in both Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan) and Pakistan Muslim League by an overwhelming majority to become the first separatist-member of the regional Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA). BNF demands withdrawal of Pakistani forces from the region and aspires for an independent country composed of Gilgit-Baltistan, Chitral and the Indian Ladakh. Pakistan occupied Gilgit-Baltistan in 1947, and since then it has ruled the region through ad hoc presidential ordinances. The region is part of the former princely state of Jammu& Kashmir, which is also contested by India. Further, China occupies more than 20,000 square kilometers of Gilgit-Baltistan; some of which was gifted by Pakistan in 1963 in return for long term strategic partnership. Like others in GBLA, Naji will face obstacles on several fronts in dealing with legislative issues. The nationalists have congratulated him for his victory and would expect him to raise the issue of reinstatement of State Subject Rule (SSR) in the lower house, but the chances of approval of such a resolution remain almost non-existent. For the majority in Gilgit-Baltistan, GBLA is a toothless institution, which can only pass resolutions while the approving authority lies in Islamabad in the form of Gilgit-Baltistan Council and the Ministry of Kashmir& GB Affairs. State Subject Rule (SSR), a law which prevailed in the former princely state of Jammu& Kashmir, was abolished in 1974 by the then-Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The action was deemed necessary to change ethnic and religious demographic structure of Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan's favor. Majority of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan share ethnicity and linguistic links with the communities living in India and revival of these links threatens Pakistan's religious-based foundation. Arrival of thousands of Pakistani settlers after abrogation of SSR led to both demographic change and a series of unavoidable blood feuds between the natives and illegal settlers. The settlers, as natives claim, act as the arms of Pakistani establishment in maintaining control over Gilgit-Baltistan. Nationalists like Imtiaz Hussain of Gilgit-Baltistan National Congress (GBNC) however believes that Naji should use this opportunity to raise issues like opening of the Line of Control between Gilgit-Baltistan and Ladakh; elimination of militant hide outs; and withdrawal of Pakistani troops and para-military from the region. For many like Hussain, Naji can return triumphant and validate his claim as a true nationalist only after proving his worth as the true representative of the natives. Only then, the majority of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan would be able to throw their full weight behind this veteran politician, who calls Mahatama Mohindas Gandhi as one of his political heroes. (The writer is the president of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Gilgit Baltistan Studies.)


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