Raped Woman Dies After Ill-treated Abortion Surgery

By Zafar Iqbal

A

young woman has died during an ill-treated abortion surgery after being raped and tortured in a remote village in Pakistan Administered Kashmir, the local media has reported. Earlier, the alleged rapist, a 51-year-old man, was convicted by a jirga (tribal court) and ordered to pay a fine of 500,000 PKR (about 5,000 USD) to the family of the victim. It is believed that police were aware of the incident but deliberately remained silent and did not interfere into the matter to protect the alleged rapist and those who conducted the jirga.

The victim of this incident could not survive the agony, torture and humiliation of repeated sexual assaults, which she was believed facing since last many months. The pregnant lady died when she was undergoing an ill-planned and mistreated surgery to abort delivery of the illicit child, the sources has claimed. The incident was highlighted only after lady social workers who helped in funeral arrangements of the deceased found scars of brutal behaviour over the body of the victim and a

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swelling in her belly.

Eye-witnesses have confirmed that soon after the incident of rape a few months ago, a jirga (tribal court) was hurriedly called by elders and influential people from the village as the perpetrator himself was an influential person. The jirga had ordered the alleged rapist to pay a fine of 500,000 PKR (about 5,000 USD) to the family of the victim.

It was also decided during the meeting that the incident of rape would neither be highlighted to media nor reported to police. However, a few young participants of the meeting leaked this information to the local press and human rights groups working in the area seeking their help for the justice. They have protested over the decision of the jigra terming it as ‘against the humanity and the law’. They have also appealed to the government and the judicial authorities to take action against culprits.

The villagers say the alleged rapist belongs to an influential family who forced the members of the family of raped woman to sign an agreement asking them that they would not report the matter to police.

“The silence of police over the happening suggests that either they were aware of the fact or they do not want to interfere into it”, Yousaf Kashmiri, a human rights activist and official of a human rights organisation Press For Peace said. He said the violence against women has increased during the recent years in Pakistan Administered Kashmir and the government has failed to launch necessary measures to cope this issue.

The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has recently highlighted gross human rights violations in Pakistan. However, most of the cases of human rights violations in Pakistan controlled Kashmir go unreported as international human rights group do not have free access to the region.

The Eurasia Review, February 9, 2013

http://www.eurasiareview.com/09022013-woman-killed-after-rape-in-pakistani-kashmir/

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Pakistan Detains Two Peace Campaigners In Kashmir

By Zafar Iqbal

Two peace activists have been arrested by police in Pakistani Administrated Kashmir (PaK) for allegedly entering a city without visa and permission of officials.

Vijay Abrol and Darvinder Singh Behal activists from Indian Administrated Kashmir are currently on a peace tour of Pakistan and its administrated Kashmir (PaK) to promote harmony and tolerance among the people.

They were arrested by local police who claim that the visitors do not have travelling documents to visit the Mirpur, Southern City of Pakistani Kashmir.

The detainees claimed that they have informed the local authorities about their visit and have travelled to Pakistan on a valid visa.

A local pro-independence political leader Arif Shahid, who heads his party Jammu Kashmir National Liberation Conference (JKNLC), was also booked during these arrests.

Three activists have been detained in the local police station and jail separately, political groups confirmed.

The arrests have triggered a wave of anger and criticism across the region where protest rallies were held in various cities of Kashmir condemning the detentions.

The incident happened in a time when situation along Kashmir’s Line of Control (LoC) is very tense after recent killings of Pakistani and Indian troops, which blame each other for violating peace truce.

The protestors charged Pakistani spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for being responsibile for the “abduction of the peace activists”.

Vijay Abrol and Darvinder Singh Behal, peace campaigners associated with a Jammu -based peace group Kashmir Social Peace Forum (PSPF) had arrived in Pakistan by Wagha border almost two weeks ago. They were warmly welcomed by the civil society and media.

Various dailies and publications have given the unusual display to the receptions and their media briefings of the peace promoters which are took into custody now.

Earlier, they have visited Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan administrated Kashmir.

Both activists have advocated the reunification of Jammu and Kashmir, urging for peace and harmony in the State. They also denounced the religious drift among followers of different religions, calling all citizens to be united for the sake of prosperity and wellbeing of the people barring any discrimination.

 Eye witnesses say that before the arrest the activists joined and addressed a large reception gathering in Mirpur where Pakistan and India were urged to halt current tensions in Kashmir, which so far has claimed three soldiers from both sides.

In Muzaffarabad-the capital city of Pakistani controlled part of Kashmir; a protest rally was organized by pro-independence parties.

Agitators strongly condemned the arrests and demanded immediate release of the detained peace promoers.

Meanwhile, current skirmishes between the Indian and the Pakistani troops in Kashmir have also affected the Peace bus Service between the divided Kashmir.

The weekly bus, which was scheduled on this Monday to cross Chakan-da-Bagh crossing point will not occur due to the tension on the LoC, officials confirmed.

Pakistani and Indian officials have agreed to suspend both trade and travel on one of the key routes of peace interventions along Kashmir’ defocto border of LoC due to the ongoing tensions erupted after killing of troops and shelling from both side on civilians.

Pakistan and Indian governments are reported to ease the tension in Kashmir border through different diplomatic channels, however, the Indian Air Force (IAF) chief’ announced on Saturday India may have to “look at some other options” if Pakistan continues to violate the ceasefire on the LoC with impunity.

Peace lobbyists on both countries are pressing Indian and Pakistani governments to avoid escalation of military advancements and resolve issues through dialogue.

 The Eurasia Review, 13-01-1213

http://www.eurasiareview.com/13012013-pakistan-detains-two-peace-campaigners-in-kashmir/#.UO7qVPkrUqU

 

Posted in Conflicts, Human rights | Tagged | Leave a comment

Gilgit Baltistan: Paradise on fire

By Zafar Iqbal

Recent spate of target killings in Gilgit Baltistan (GB) has caused a great political instability and sectarian unrest in this volatile region which is surrounded by three countries—including two major powers— Afghanistan, China and

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India. Its distinctive geo-strategic context builds the possibilities of wider regional implications of major internal occurrences. Consequently, fresh outbreak of murder of innocent civilians has exacerbated various social, political and religious processes in Gilgit Baltistan society.

Religious gaps

Contrary to rest of the Sunni-dominated country, Shias are in majority in the GB where Pakistani establishment has been accused of the denial of legitimate rights of this vast majority by imposing pro-Sunnis policies and practises. For instance, Shias has been forced to study the Sunni syllabus, which has caused violent clashes in January 2005. [i]

Like rest of the country, Shias has been a soft target for unprovoked bloodshed. In 1988, hundreds of Shias were killed in Giligit by thousands of armed Sunni invaders from Khyber Pakthunkhwa. It is widely believed that the killers had support of General Zia’s regime. [ii]

Sadly, the successive democratic governments could not stop the target killing of the Shias. Even after the 28 February, 2012 Khostan massacre in which 18 Shia passengers were killed on the KaraKoram Highway (KKH), agitators of banned sectarian organisations continue to propagate hate messages and slogans like “Sunni Raj in a Sunni state” and “Shia Kafir”.[iii] In a series of incidents, dozens of people, mostly Shias, have been killed or wounded and their properties are burnt.

Yet 2009 partial autonomy, which gave more powers to the region, has not curtailed the religious hostilities. Disproportionate power sharing on the higher in present PPP -led government level has been considered a bone of contention between the both sects. It is believed that due to the possession of key administrative and political posts by the Shias due to their overwhelming majority in the population, Sunni minority feels somewhat left out or unheard in the mainstream structure.

Today, suspicions or lack of trust for the other sector rivals prevail in neighbourhood communities where frightened Shias and Sunnis are disinclined to enter ‘others’ territories.

Ejaz Karim, a student, describes his wariness about the changing social fabric:

“There are ‘no-go-areas’ for both communities. You cannot go to the Sunni area, if you are a Shia and you cannot go to the Shia area, if you are a Sunni.” In this situation, both communities have started their own transport system in various parts as they feel insecure to travel in an area dominant by the fanatical followers of other sect.[iv]

Similar sectarian segregations are common in other civic amenities like markets, hospitals, educational institutes and so on. Above all, it is the only place in the country where prisoners are locked on the sectarian affiliations.[v] Senseless extremism and counter vengeance worries citizens who predict more bloodshed, if authorities fail to respond swiftly.

Socio-economic marginalization

Socio-economic deprivation is another key factor to expand the religious and sectarian rifts in the area. The GB is the poorest and highly marginalized region of Pakistan where the average household income is $0.50 per capital per day.[vi] As 85 per cent of the population do not have access to safe drinking water, 60 per cent of inhabitants rely on water from open channels where water contamination is 500 times higher than WHO standards. As a consequence, poor water and sanitation takes 50 percent of all deaths of children between 1 and 5 years of age.[vii]

Economically, tourism has been a major contributor of local livelihood, however, terrorism wave in the country and representation of Pakistan troubled Khabyer Pakthun Khwa (KPK) in international media as ‘Northern Pakistan’, which equates with the former name of the GB region has devastatingly damaged the local tourism industry.[viii] Unemployment has increased alarmingly. In the GB 70% of the population is under 25 years of age and 70 per cent suffer from under/unemployment.[ix]

Public sector job recruitment process is compromised on sectarian and party affiliation basis and few available positions are mostly occupied by influential elite, consequently, poor and marginalized sections suffer from alienation and gross discrimination. There have been various controversial recruitments in higher judiciary and government departments.[x]

Recalling historical bonds

The incidents of brutal murder of blameless and innocent people in the GB have triggered sentiments of alienation among public vis -a -vis their socio-economic links with Islamabad. Demands of local population for resumption of bus service between Sakrdu and Kargil and other travel and trade linkages with the adjoining areas under Indian and Pakistani control has attained massive support from different segments of society.

The demand of alternate routes has been forwarded by people due to a highly insecure travel all along the KKH. Growing sense of insecurity has made locals to avoid travel on the KKH, which is the only road connection between Pakistan and China and remains as the lifeline of the area.[xi]

Over 5,000 passengers per day travel on the KKH to reach capital city Islamabad to perform their routine matters.[xii] Before the partition of India in 1947 the region was connected with Ladakh and other adjourning regions with land routes. The division of Indian subcontinent between India and Pakistan ceased these routes for ever.

The 1947 Partition also divided a large number of families in Gilgit Baltistan, Kargil, Laddakh and adjacent areas. For decades chances of reopening of such historical routes remained blurred because of long-lasting animosity between Pakistan and India which controlled the regions.

However, ongoing- India Pakistan peace process and starting of Intra-Kashmir trade and travel arrangements and reunion of divided Kashmiris over Line of Control

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(LoC) have raised the hopes of divided Ladakhis and other separated families in the GB.

The Kohastan massacre has resulted into obvious unwillingness to travel on the KKH that has underscored significance of reopening traditional routes of the region. In a string of demonstrations people of the region have urged India and Pakistan to re-open Astore-Srinagar, Chorbat-Nubra, Sham-Skardo, Drass-Gultari and Kharmang-Kargil routes to reunite them with Kargil and other areas in Indian administered Kashmir.

Articulation for identity

Growing call for re-configuration of political identity of the region is another key factor behind on-going public anger. This emerging voice has stunned Pakistani establishment which believed that 2009 Self Rule will recompense the grievances of the people; however, the reinstatement of State Subject Rule (SSR) is unanimous demand of the local agitators.

The SSR is the law that protected the local demographic composition till in the 1970s when Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto abrogated it to encourage settlements and property allotments of outsiders.[xiii] The abolition of the SSR in the GB has caused worse demographic change from local ethnic, linguistic, religious and cultural perspectives.

China factor

Mounting Chinese geo-strategic influence in Giligit Baltistan is another cause of instability not only for neighbouring India but for people of the territory as well. As Islamabad- Shanghai cooperation is increasing, bilateral trade between China and Pakistan has increased 28 per cent[xiv] in the past year to approximately $10. 8 billion compared with US $ 8.7 billion in 2010.[xv]

Currently China is working on a Karakoram Highway (KKH) Improvement Project at an approximate cost of $500 million and 18 mega projects in the energy and mining sectors in Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistani controlled Kashmir.[xvi]

Chinese firms have been accused of ill-treating and exploiting local workers or ignoring indigenous populations. Therefore, presence of alleged 4,000-7000 Chinese troops/workers in Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistan’s consideration of leasing the GB to China for the next fifty years have also estranged public and deepen the sensitivities of the region.[xvii]

Conclusion

No doubt, the repercussions of these developments are wide ranging not only for India, Pakistan and China but also for the people of the area. Pakistani establishment should address the legitimate concerns of the people immediately. And the composition of political, legal, administrative and constitutional arrangements of the region should be aligned with the aspirations of the general public, otherwise simmering instability and violence will continue.
References:

[i] Samer et al (2011) The Hidden Crisis: Armed Conflict and Education, UNISCO, France, page 169

[ii] Haroon, A (2012) Why not Kohistan? (Online) available at:

http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-98790-Why-not-Kohistan

[iii] Kharal , A (2012 ) ASWJ calls for protest against ‘curriculum change’ in Gilgit-Baltistan(Online) available at:

http://tribune.com.pk/story/349396/aswj-calls-for-protest-against-curriculum-change-in-gilgit-baltistan/

[iv] Daily Pamir Times, Gigilgit, 4 and 5: the routes to sectarian divisions and disharmony (online) available at:

http://pamirtimes.net/2012/03/31/4-and-5-the-routes-to-sectarian-divisions-and-disharmony/

[v] Daily Mahasib(Urdu) Gilgit, April 1, 2012

[vi] United Nations Development Group (2012) MDG-7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability (online) available at:

http://mdgpolicynet.undg.org/ext/MDG-Good-Practices/mdg7/MDG7C_Pakistan_Water_and_Sanitation_Extension_Programme(WASEP).pdf

[vii] Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) (2011) Supporting the next generation of leaders in Pakistan (online) available at:

http://www.akfc.ca/fr/images/stories/files/SupportingTheNextGenOfLeadersInPakistan_FINAL.pdf

[viii] Nawaz et al. (1211), “Impact of Terrorism on Tourist Industry: a point to ponder”, International Journal of Academic Research, (Vol. 3. No. 4. , I Part )

[ix] Ibid,2012

[x] Mir, S (2012) Chief judge’s appointment: Baltistan bar terms decision illegal(online) available at:

http://tribune.com.pk/story/339876/chief-judges-appointment-baltistan-bar-terms-decision-illegal/

[xi] Parwana, H.(2012) Skardu Kargil road :Tear down the Berlin Wall of Asia (online) available at :

http://kashmirwatch.com/opinions.php/2012/03/27/skardu-kargil-road-tear-down-the-berlin-wall-of-asia.html

[xii] Parwana, H. (2012) The Joyride to Death in Pakistan (online) available at:

http://www.expertclick.com/NewsReleaseWire/The_Joyride_to_Death_in_Pakistan,201239821.aspx

[xiii] Singh, P. ( 2012 ) Gilgit Baltistan: Neither ‘in’ Pakistan Nor ‘of’ it? (Online) available at:

http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/GilgitBaltistanNeitherinPakistanNorofit_psingh_060212

[xiv] Geoffrey F. Gresh (2012 ) Russia, China, and stabilizing South Asia (Online) available at: http://afpak.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/03/12/russia_china_and_stabilizing_south_asia

[xv] Pakistan-China trade reaches US $ 10.6 billion mark; Pak exports register 23% growth; total volume US $ 2.12 billion (Online) available at:

http://www.pakbj.com/more_media.php?cont=%2033
[xvi] Malik M Ashraf (2012) Chinese mega projects in Pakistan (online) available at:

http://pakobserver.net/detailnews.asp?id=103439

[xvii] Ojuland, K (2012) The dangerous presence of Chinese troops in Gilgit-Baltistan (online) available at :

http://www.neurope.eu/blog/dangerous-presence-chinese-troops-gilgit-baltistan

Weekly Viewpoint, no. 129, November 30, 2012,

http://www.viewpointonline.net/gilgit-baltistan-paradise-on-fire.html

Posted in Human rights | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Post-war Sri Lanka – the challenges of reconciliation, reintegration and rehabilitation

By Zafar Iqbal

Three years on from the end of the civil war, Sri Lanka continues to face a number of multifaceted challenges concerning reconciliation, reintegration and rehabilitation. The country faces intense scrutiny over war crimes allegedly committed by its military in the bloody finale of the war; whilst allegations of widespread human rights violations – such as executions, the shelling of civilians and other atrocities – have echoed to the international arena.

War Crimes

Human rights defenders assert that up to 40,000 civilians died in the final offensive, yet Sri Lanka maintains that its troops did not kill a single civilian. The UN estimates

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that some 100,000 people were killed in the fighting in Sri Lanka between 1972 and 2009, with more than a million people displaced, many of whom sought refuge abroad.

The Sri Lankan government refuses to allow a UN-led investigation into alleged war crimes, and has instead launched its own

locally-organized investigation, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). The opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) party and campaigners demand an independent international inquiry to probe accusations of war crimes.

According to critics, the government is becoming ever more autocratic. It has amended press laws to give more powers to the government to inhibit the free flow of information, whilst the country’s media regulator already has the authority to fine and jail journalists who defy its orders. Excessive government measures indicate that Sri Lanka is descending towards dictatorship, which could severely jeopardize rehabilitation and and reconciliation.

Rehabilitation process

In the concluding months of the war, over 11,000 LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) fighters – many of whom were forcibly conscripted by the rebels – surrendered to the army. These former LTTE recruits are at the heart of post-war rehabilitation plans, which aim to reintegrate them into civilian life. These former combatants are required to complete a six-stage rehabilitation program – which could last up to two years – if they wish to receive a general amnesty, otherwise they will face terrorism charges.

On the political side, the opposition Tamil National Alliance (TNA) party continues to refuses to join the Parliament Select Committee (PSC) proceedings. Amidst pressure from its allies, the government has refused to have talks only with the TNA on the basis that they are not the sole representatives of the Tamils.

De-mining

With respect to rehabilitation processes, the major area where the Sri Lankan government’s has a comparatively positive record is that of de-mining. The de-mining process in the North is nearing successful completion, with over 90 percent of the area where land mines are believed to have been laid during the 30-year civil war having been cleared. With the assistance of the international community, 92 percent of the danger area in the north and east of the country has been cleared.

Resettlement

Statistics show that there were about 280,000 internally displaced persons and 11,700 LTTE combatants who surrendered to, or were arrested by, the security forces.

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In order to resettle these IDPs, the government has secured assistance to renovate over 24,500 houses and to construct 73,044 new ones.

The resettlement of IDPs is not a trouble-free job because during the war years a large amount of property was occupied by squatters or other illegal owners. In this scenario, Sri Lanka has to bring in special property laws to protect the rights of hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the island’s civil war. Existing Sri Lankan laws give squatters rights to claim ownership of a property after occupying it for ten years without legal challenge, but the government has revoked such powers by introducing legal reforms.

Economic development

A post-war reconstruction boom and the restoration of fractured infrastructure has been a blessing for the country’s economy. The IMF and Chinese loans for rehabilitation of the northern railway, roads, housing and small enterprise sector has boosted the economy. As a result, the Sri Lankan stock market has been recognized as one of the best performing markets in the world and the country’s growth rate has crossed eight per cent at a time when the global financial market dwindles. Furthermore, in GDP per capita terms, Sri

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Lanka is ahead of other countries in the South Asian region.

Conclusion

Although the chances of any early resurgence of a violent movement in the country are very blurred, concerns about integration of the Tamils remain, particularly as the Tamil Diaspora, scattered across the world, continue to raise the separate of their own homeland. During the recent Commonwealth Economic Forum and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, over 3000 Tamil protesters compelled the Sri Lankan president to cancel his speech because of alleged human rights abuses. The seeds of alienation among the minority Tamils remain pertinent, particularly the sense of estrangement felt by victims of violence and civil war. It is therefore the responsibility of the Sri Lankan government and international community to ensure the processes of reconciliation, reintegration and rehabilitation are based upon principals of justice and humanity. This is the only way forward to heal the scars of war.

Zafar Iqbal is the founder of Press For Peace (PFP), a Kashmir-based organisation working to promote peace and sustainable development. PFP is also a member of the Global Coalition for Conflict Transformation.

TransConflict, October 24, 2012

http://www.transconflict.com/2012/10/post-war-sri-lanka-the-challenges-of-reconciliation-reintegration-and-rehabilitation-240/

 

Posted in Conflicts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Islamabad is transporting the gifts of dead bodies to Gilgit Baltistan

By Zafar Iqbal 

Baba Jan Hunzai is an activist who was imprisoned and tortured for drawing attention to the plight of the victims of the Attabad Lake which burst out in January 2010 by floods and landslide into the Hunza River in Gilgit Baltistan. The disaster killed twenty people and displaced 6,000 persons.

For more than a year Baba Jan Hunzai and four fellow activists have languished in various jails of Gilgit Baltistan (GB) for raising the voice of victims of the Attabad tragedy which were ignored by the government. Instead of compensating the affectees, officials killed two protesters and imprisoned Baba Jan Hunzai and his four fellow activists under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).

The incredible struggle of “the Hunza Five”  for the rights of the victims of climate change echoed across the world naming Baba Jan as the ‘Che Guevara of Pakistani Youth’. He is Chief Organiser of the Progressive Youth Front (PYF) — an organ of the Labour Party Pakistan. Baba Jan Hunzai was released on bail a few weeks ago.

Here are the extracts from his detailed interview after the release:

The police officials have told the Senate’s Standing Committee on Human Rights that they have found anti-state material in your possession and that you are involved in anti-state activities.  What are your comments on such charges?

For the last 64 years Gilgit Baltistan has been under the clutches of the greedy rulers of Islamabad. In this region there is no respect for basic human rights neither are there independent courts to provide justice to the victims.   Incapable persons have been appointed in the so-called local courts and anti-terrorism courts.  These allegations are totally absurd, baseless and against the facts.  Indeed, I filed an application against the chief of police. I demanded that police officials involved in inflicting inhuman torture on me during my detention should be arrested and trialed.  My stance has infuriated the high ups.

How could a person be involved in any alleged anti-state activities from the prison? It is a foul allegation. I am a political worker and have raised my voice for the rights of the poor masses and working class.

By leveling such fake charges they want silence the political forces.  Through such shameful tactics the government wants to suppress the voice of the people. But we would not compromise on our principled stance. We are socialists and we have a commitment with our people and our cause.

How do you comment on your release from the prison?

First of all I am grateful to the human rights organizations, media and my comrades within the country and across the world who voiced their sincere voice for my release.

In reality, it is not an absolute freedom. I have been released on bail, so it is a temporary liberation. For me it is just a transition from a minor jail to the larger prison as the whole society is turned into a prison where injustice, poverty and inequality prevail.

Gilgit Baltistan is a colony of Islamabad’s rulers. It is a pasture that serves their interests. Our rulers are plundering our priceless resources like forests, minerals and tourists destinations. Income Tax and General Sales Tax go directly to Islamabad’s exchanger. In response, Islamabad has given our people poverty, illiteracy, joblessness and the curse of evil sectarianism.

People demand their rights from Islamabad; however, rather granting the basic rights to the people, Islamabad is transporting the gifts of dead bodies of innocent people for us. It is unacceptable.

In this era of science and technology there are no engineering and medical colleges or universities in our area.   It is a big joke that government declared a Post–Graduate College as Karakoram University. Its fees are unaffordable for local students. In such circumstances, poor parents sell their lands and properties to educate their children. Furthermore, the situation of law and order in Gilgit Baltistan is becoming worse day by day where section 144 is imposed for 12 months, turning it into a prison for the inhabitants.

What is the latest situation of Attabad Lake and how are the victims living now?

In 2010 a massive landslide in the Hunza River blocked the natural stream of the river and formed an artificial lake- Attabad Lake. Then Pakistani Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira announced that the drainage of water would be completed within 45 days. Sadly, 45 months have passed and lake is still waiting for drainage. Recently, the engineers and environmentalists of the National Engineering Services Pakistan (NESPAK) have declared it very dangerous from the environmental perspective.

The survivors of Attabad Lake calamity have been demanding alternative lands and other related facilities because the blockade of Hunza River is submerging the valuable agricultural lands of people. It has also badly damaged the Karakoram Highway (KKH) which impacted the social and economic life in the area.

With the help of civil society and friends in Labour Party Pakistan I mobilized the public opinion to raise the plight of victims of Attabad disaster. For this act, authorities put me behind the bars for over 13 months.

How would you recall your memories of the prison?

After consultation with my comrades, I handed over myself to the authorities on September 8, 2011 where I was picked up by officials of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) who continued to inflict indescribable torture on me till 15 September. When the Labour Party and human rights groups protested over this brutal action they sent me back to the jail. In April 2012 two fingers of my hands were broken due to the torture. Perpetrators also shaved my head to shake my determination.

One of our fellow comrades suffered from continuous bleeding over 15 days. In the meanwhile my comrades Amir Khan and Iftekhar Hussain were shifted to an unnamed location for more intimidation and persecution.  We had to survive six days and nights without any food. Because of such cruel treatment, I would like to describe these cells as the “infamous Guantanamo Bay”.

There are no medical facilities in the jails. The medical board has recommended the prison administration to transfer three prisoners to hospitals; however, authorities do not allow them even though the High Court has also issued orders to do so. One of the prisoners is suffering from cancer.

The prisoners are suffering from ruthless treatment.  Government should urgently provide medical facilities to sick prisoners, and the paramilitary forces involved in the persecution must be put on trial.  The culture of slavery and torture in the prisons should be stopped.

Recently Gilgit Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) has passed a resolution which demands that GB should be annexed to Pakistan like a provincial unit.  How do you view this development?

As I have mentioned earlier that Gilgit Balitistan (GB) is not a free land but a colony of Islamabad. GB has no representation in the National Assembly and Senate. The Supreme Court has already declared that GB is not part of Pakistan. The Legislative Assembly has no right to decide the future of this region.

It has been reported by a section of foreign press that China has deployed its troops in Gilgit Baltistan. Also the Indian government has been reputedly voicing concerns over the Chinese troops in the GB.

India has strategic interests in the GB as it has rivalry with China. Strategically GB is very crucial for Pakistan as well. There is no Chinese military presence in the region, except their engineers working in expansion work of the KKH and few other mega projects.

Various Kashmiri political parties declare the GB as part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and demand its inclusion in the Jammu and Kashmir. Any comment?

India occupied the Laddakh territory, which is part of Great Blawaristan. Pakistani President General Ayyub handed over Aksai Chin to China. Chitral was separated from Gilgit Baltistan and included in the NWFP (now Khyer PakhoonKhawa). Kohistan District was also separated from GB, however, Kashmiris have never voiced against such injustices. They see the Gigligit Baltistan from the glasses of their interests and ignore the plight of people in the area.

In 1993 the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Judiciary led by Justice Majid Malik declared that Gilgit Baltistan is part of Jammu and Kashmir. Accordingly, the AJK government should have annexed the region with Azad Jammu and Kashmir, however, then the Muslim Conference government failed to implement this because Sardar Abdul Qayaum Khan denied following the court ruling.

Our Kashmiri friends consider the GB as part of Jammu and Kashmir. The United Nations (UN) resolutions about the Kashmir conflict also declare this region as disputed. Historically, along with British rule over GB there was also a governor appointed from Kashmir.

With all such historical facts we believe that the future of this area only could be decided by a Constitutional Assembly elected by free, transparent and neutral elections held under the supervision of international observers.

Pakistani rulers have been trying to befool the people of GB through different Constitutional Packages or reforms. Current GB Assembly and government are run by not the people of Gilgit Baltistan but by Minister of Kashmir Affairs Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo.

Gilgit Baltistan has a right either to be a free area or annexed with Pakistan or somewhere else. But it is clear that our people would not accept the dictation of any puppet regime.

Zafar Iqbal is a freelance writer and campaigner. He writes on political, environmental and geo-strategic dimensions of contemporary South Asia. He could be accessed via : www.pressforpeace.org.uk

Weekly Viewpoint,ISSUE NO. 123 19 October,  2012,

http://www.viewpointonline.net/islamabad-is-transporting-the-gifts-of-dead-bodies-to-gilgit-baltistan.html

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