By Matiar Chowdhury:
Canadian coalition of leading aid agencies, The Humanitarian Coalition, describes a humanitarian crisis as a “singular event or a series of events that are threatening in terms of health, safety or well-being of a community or large group of people”. Well, that is exactly what the people of Pakistan occupied Gilgit-Baltistan are faced with: a humanitarian crisis.
Failing businesses due to lack of electricity leading to economic collapse, lack of job opportunities generating massive unemployment, cuts is wheat subsidy causing hunger, lack of specialist doctors in hospitals resulting in deaths, especially during childbirth, lack of school teachers depriving our new generation of education, lack of funds to pay pensions forcing starvation among retired non-commissioned army personal and government employees, and above all lack of clean drinking water driving the population to fetch and consume river water and fall victim to waterborne disease and broken roads and lack of safety walls that claim precious lives in road accidents on an almost daily basis, all, culminate in a “series of events that are threatening (the lives of my people) in terms of health, safety or well-being”.
There is no political representation on the grassroots level as has been established in Indian union territory of Jammu and Kashmir, where District Development Councils (DDC) were elected and funds made available for development on union council level.
There is a so-called legislative Assembly in Gilgit that is controlled by the invisible hand of the Pakistani military establishment. Last elections for the aforementioned ‘institution’ were held on November 15 2020. Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf ‘won’ the elections and formed a government that seldom meets in session. The Chief Minister, Khalid Khurshid, spends most of his time in Islamabad at the Gilgit House attending parties.
Epidemic outbreaks played havoc with the health of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. However, no data is available to map out the trend of malaria, dysentery, hepatitis, pneumonia or even most recently Covid-19. Lack of hospital staff and lack of public access to the larger cities due to broken roads and insufficient means of transport has driven the rural population to perform local remedies for their ailments.
It is not that the people of Pakistan occupied Gilgit-Baltistan suffer without putting up a resistance. No. My people take out protest rallies and observe sit-ins in every city on a daily basis.
So far their voice has been falling on deaf ears or no ears at all, since those who could make a difference, e.g. the chief minister or his cabinet members, have chosen to remain indifferent and spend most of their time in Islamabad. They have literally left my people on the mercy of circumstance.
Gilgit-Baltistan is not poor. Its mountain stores the world’s best precious stones in their bellies. Gold, diamond, Gemstones, Gypsum, Chalcopyrite and above all Uranium deposits, in large quantities, are present in the region. Marble is in abundance. And most importantly, we have 250 plus glaciers that give birth to the River Indus. No, we are not poor but subjugated. How can one expect an unarmed population to fight the so-called world’s sixth largest army occupation?
Once a thriving region has now sunk deep into destitute and despair. Ever since Maj William Alexander Brown, the former political agent of Gilgit Agency and later working on contract during the tumultuous period of 1947, staged a coup against the Maharaja Hari Singh of the then State of Jammu Kashmir, and hoisted a Pakistani flag at the Gilgit residency on November 2, 1947, my people have been suffering at the hands of our occupier.
According to the instrument of accession of October 26, 1947, signed between Maharaja Hari Singh and Lord Mountbatten, the last British Governor General of India, Gilgit-Baltistan is part of the Indian Republic. Yet for seven decades’ Indian citizens are forced to live under the occupation of the Pakistan Army. We have more in common with our Laddakh breathen that Worldpopulationreview.com (Top 10 countries with highest number of active duty military personal)
We have been with the Punjabi army of occupation and only by re-joining the Republic of India will our hope of better days come true and bring an end to the unending humanitarian crisis.
(Matiar Chowdhury London 3rd December 2021.) firstname.lastname@example.org