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November '05: While Gilgit burns

While Gilgit burns
(November 2005)

Pakistan is confronted with a number of challenges in the last quarter of 2005. While some of these challenges such as the massive earthquake relief and rehabilitation efforts, terrorists' attacks in Karachi, keeping the peace process on course are more known, there are some lesser known but equally important challenges such as the political and security challenges in the Northern Areas. For the November issue of individu-spotlight, individualland wanted to shed the spotlight on the need for granting political rights to the citizens of that area.

While the newspapers have been filled with reports of the tragic earthquake and the fumbling relief efforts, the Federally Administered Northern Areas of Pakistan were confronted with a political earthquake of their own. Gilgit had been under curfew since October 13th and according to the figures given by the Institute for Conflict Management in year 2005, 81 people had lost their lives till October 28th 2005. The reasons for the violence are many and multi-layered with some analysts terming it as a sectarian conflict , some as an artificially engineered one , some as a question of lack of political rights and some analysts believe that the violence in Gligit is actually a consequence of Pakistan's lack of effective federal system of government. However, whatever the reasons all commentators and political analysts agree: the Northern Areas are largely seen as an appendix of the Kashmir issue and the citizens do not enjoy political rights.

Current cycle of violence

The beginning of 2005 saw violence erupting in Gilgit but this current cycle of violence in the latter part of the year started on October 11th when a group of Sunnis opened fire on a Shia group ,fifty eight kilometers from Gilgit at Basen killing two and wounding others. Two of the gunmen escaped but one whose papers indicated that he hailed from Kohistan was injured and nabbed by the local police. The police took him to the District Headquarters in Gilgit but according to individual-land sources he was taken out of the custody of the local police by the Pakistan Rangers. This change of hands of the injured gunmen was not reported in the local newspapers but did find it's way to one of India's leading magazine ,Outlook India. When the Shia community found out, they protested and were dispersed by the Rangers who fired tear gas and also arrested them. Out of the ten protesters taken in by the Rangers ,a 15 year old Maqsood Hussain 's body was found on October 12 th in a nalla leading to more protests and demonstration by the people on October 13th. These protesters were also fired upon killing according to some reports seven while other reports indicate five. The administration then imposed a curfew on October 13th to deal with the situation.

Indiidual-land is trying to keep in touch with it's contacts in Gilgit and will be happy to share information if any of it's readers would want more information. However, for this issue of individu-spotlight, we wanted to shed light on the political plight of the area which results in violence and death.

Short history of political plight of the Area

(Courtesy the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan)

The people of Northern Areas of Pakistan fought an indigenous and independent war for their freedom from the cruel clutches of the Dogra Rule. This freedom war was neither externally motivated nor externally assisted. In this view, it can be termed as an expression of their right of self determination as envisaged in the charter of the United Nations. The people, after gaining freedom from Dogra rule, opted to join Pakistan without any pre-conditions, but in response to this good-will gesture, the Government of Pakistan imposed a colonial system of governance in the form of the Frontier Crime Regulation (FCR), known as the 'black law'.The Bhutto Government abolished this 'black law' in 1972, and direct federal rule was introduced in the region. The introduction of this direct federal rule also could not meet the requirements of the people of the region, and they were not given any protection under the constitution.

Situation on ground

The fact of the matter is that the Northern Areas have been governed by an Islamabad based remote control which is an unsuitable arrangement to say the least. Presently, the Northern Areas has an Islamabad based Chief Executive that is the Minister for Kashmir and Northern Areas and the constitutional rights of the people of the area are usurped. The Northern Areas Legislative Council at best can be described as a congregation of well meaning individuals who cannot be termed as representatives of the people. There exists in the area an environment of tension as violence can erupt at any minute. Sectarianism is at its height and there is mutual suspicion between the different ethnic groups living in the area. Every fortnight there is a curfew imposed in the area.

The violence which besieged the area every quarter actually has it's basis in the denial of the constitutional rights to the people of the Northern Areas. The denial of the constitutional rights to this area is particularly perturbing in light of the 1999 Supreme Court judgment. The Supreme Court of Pakistan clearly directed that the people of the area must be given self rule through their representatives and that an independent judiciary would protect the fundamental rights of the people. After the passage of six years, this decision has still not been implemented raising serious questions in the minds of the people of the area.

In this era of good governance and practice of devolution of power, it is high time that the issue of the Northern Areas is taken up seriously and consistently instead of sporadic dole outs. By dole outs, individual-land means developmental packages that are thrown as crumbs from time to time. The most recent developmental package was approved and announced by the President on October 11th 2004. The President was supposed to announce it himself in Gilgit but he could not travel due to bad weather. Senator Nisar Memon announced it on behalf of the President on October 11th 2004 which was later again announced by the President himself in November 2004. The salient features of this package were:

> Strength of the NALC to be increased from 29 to 32, the additional seats being of technocrats. The seats in November 2004 were later increased to six technocrats' seats, making the total number of seats in the NALC 36.
> Local government ordinance will be amended to increase the seats of women to 33 percent.
> Delegation of administrative and financial powers to the Northern Area Administration.
> Creation of a new district in Astore.
> An Appellate Court for the Northern Areas.
> Air links to be improved by using new plans on the route.
> Additional fund of Rs 500 million during the current financial year for development.

If, for a minute one sets aside the argument of the implementation of the Supreme Court decision and concentrate on the developmental package, one could find loopholes. For instance, the replacement of old air crafts by PIA by new ones is not something specific to the Northern Areas. PIA has been replacing it's aircrafts for most of the routes of the country. Clubbing it in a developmental package for Northern Areas is at best good political communication but nothing more.

The Federal government maintains that the people of the Northern Areas enjoy a ``special status" in the federation of Pakistan. This special status translates into a quota in services that is clubbed with FATA as a result of which a number of promising candidates are lost in the wilderness. It is interesting that in terms of constitutional status, the Northern Areas are clubbed with Kashmir but for services, the NA is clubbed with FATA.

Presently, the Northern Areas are rife with tension and sectarianism with curfews being imposed. It is important that these violent incidents are recognized as manifestations of the denial of constitutional rights. When rights are denied to people, when justice fails them, when they don't have a political voice, conflicts will arise and they will be settled by the gun barrel rather than political negotiation.

The voice emanating from the Northern Areas, thus, calls for:
> Strengthening political institutions
> Implementation of the 1999 Supreme Court decision
> Ending of violence in the area
> Transferring administrative power to the people
> Having a Chief Minster from that area with elected members. The Federal government's representative can be a governor.
> Granting of constitutional rights to the people of the Northern Areas.

Individual-land Demands

Individual-land would like to demand that:
> A parliamentary committee must be sent to asses the situation on ground
> The recommendations of the parliamentary committee must be discussed in the Parliament and
> These recommendations must be implemented unlike the recommendation on Balochistan.

If this voice is heeded to, the gun will no longer be the weapon of choice. 993



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