By Ghulam Amin Beg
I initially put the title as, ‘Rebirth of Hunza’, but reading the media report on the demonstration staged in Nagar and addressed by elected politicians demanding not to open the spillway and vowing to break the ‘legs of the traitors’, I changed the title to Rebirth of Hunza-Nagar! As I know many thinking youth and social activists from Hunza-Nagar are aware of the dangers and downstream consequences of ‘waiting’ for the summer peak flows in July-August to explode the Hunza water bomb.
However, it seems two different streams are coming out of the Attabad spillway; one of hope, patience, bravery and resilience in the face of this historic creeping disaster, the other of lies, deceit, incompetence, negligence, injustice and oppression. Unfortunately, those associated, directly or indirectly with the later, are blaming the former of being ‘anti-social’ and ‘tools in the hands of the enemies of the land’ and ‘traitors’.
Never before, in contemporary Hunza-Nagar, has the youth seemed so dejected and agitating at the incompetence, corruption, inaction and disregard to human dignity, killing of meritocracy and pluralism by the powers that be, as was visible during this disaster. The six months of isolation, siege and emotional, physical, social, economic and political trauma made the youth more strong and resilient and sparked a new hope for the future. They are ready to take any challenge and stand up for peace, justice and competent leadership. With the gigantic task of early recovery and rehabilitation on their shoulders, and the new Hunza-Nagar district structure in the offing, they have resolved to take direct democratic action to reduce the frustrations of the youth, saying enough is enough. Their resolve is uncompromising and their method is peaceful, democratic and their goal is to promote good governance, meritocracy, pluralism and justice for all. The slogan is NO to Corruption, NO to incompetence, NO to favouritism, No to Injustice. MAKE HUNZA-NAGAR CORRUPTION FREE AND MAKE ALL CONTRACTS, APPOINTMENTS, POSTINGS ON MERIT AND ONLY MERIT.
The first glimpse of this direct action we saw was on Thursday June 17, over four hundred barefoot young volunteers from Hunza-Gojal marched and boated towards the ‘ground zero-Attabad spillway and started widening it applying local knowledge and expressing their frustration against the inaction of the government. Despite the fact that the police used force to brutalize the victims; baton charging and fists and kicks by police and injuries to the young volunteers, however the youth remained peaceful and unprovoked, and their spirit remained unfailing as they broke the barricade and reached the spillway and registered their protest in a unique way.
It apparently seems like the Hunza Landslide disaster has created deep social and political wounds and mistrust between some elements in the local administration and social and political leadership in Hunza-Gojal and the common people, especially the dejected youth, rather then healing it. Much of the blame rests with bad communication and the unruly attitude of our so-called administrators and leaders who are not trained to perform their duty with care and respect human dignity and plurality of views.
Arguably, these officials are obviously not trained how to touch the hearts and minds of people in disasters, especially at lower and middle tiers. I have not heard anybody talking against the Chief Secretary? Not withstanding though the arrogance of General Farooq and Qamar uz Zaman Qaira, I have heard many people praising General Nadeem, the new chairman of NDMA. What impressed the victims and the youth? Just because he visits them every now and then, talks to them, sometimes eats with them. Probably he knows from his experience that consoling and respecting human dignity is important tool to touch the hearts and minds of the affected people which in turn helps organizing the affected people as a resource and also helps lower their expectations. Even when General Kayani visited the area and talked to the affected people, everybody right, left centre praised his attitude and honest talk.
Not advocating or eulogizing the old feudal system, which had its own demerits, historically, Hunza-Nagar have, generally, installed wise, honest, brave, humble and competent leaders as their Mirs purely on merit. Those found otherwise were either removed through tribal consensus or popular uprisings or eliminated through mutiny within the ruling family. Infact sound leadership and quick access to justice were the two pillars of the old Hunza-Nagar states. The one thing that the people of Hunza-Nagar jealously guarded throughout history was their self-respect, dignity and national pride. There was no compromise on this throughout their turbulent history.
In contemporary Hunza-Nagar, due to many depoliticizing factors, the aristocrats, educated youth, civil society, women rights groups, social activists, farmers, businessmen, the professionals and the elders have remained aloof of whether the government deputes a deaf or fool as their administrator or an idiot becomes their leader at any level of political governance.
One of the positive effects of the Hunza water bomb is a complete transformation of this attitude of the educated youth, businessmen, farmers, women, social activists, professionals and the elders. It is like a rebirth of Hunza-Nagar. Now people demand administrators, leaders, elected members and politicians who are wise, honest, brave, humble and competent and are elected/selected or appointed purely on merit. In one corner meeting a young person said, WE DON’T NEED CORRUPT AND IODINE DEFICIENT ADMINISTRATORS AND LEADERS in Hunza-Nagar!
Another effect of the disaster was the feeling of integration amongst the youth within the Pakistani society due to the gradual response from the federal government, civil society, mainstream media, and even provincial governments of Pakistan and AJK government. The projection and appreciation of the positive images of self-help, self-esteem and appreciation of local culture and traditions, the youth and people in Hunza-Nagar and generally in GB praised it with gratitude. From a previous feeling of dejection and imposition, a feeling of oneness and humanism evolved as organizations and people previously unknown to the area like Al Khidmat Foundation, Jamat ul Dawa, Muslim Hands and Baharia Foundation, UN agencies etc. were facilitated by the government to come to help distressed people. Not to talk of the support received from various organizations and institutions already working in GB for decades including agencies of the AKDN, the Ismaili Councils, the Anjum-e-Imamia, Tanzeem e Ahel Sunnat and local civil society actors like V/WOs, LSOs, KADO and NDO.
On the role of newly founded GB government and the role of local administration there was mixed feeling. Initially there was appreciation by all quarters as the government and local administration responded to the first phase of the Attabad disaster; the search and rescue and transferring people to camps in Altit and later relief efforts and establishing air and boat communication service across the lake and immediate delivery of cheques to the families of those victims who lost their lives. However, gradually confrontations and finger pointing started due to the complexity, time scale and administrative and logistic difficulties in handling the issue of making the spillway by the contractor-FWO, which is a federal agency not under the control of GB government. As frustrations by the people mounted, the local administration and GB government tried to own and justify the pace of work at the spillway and hence became the focus of criticism.
Starting from this point, and with the help of ‘enigmatic angels’ and their unfound notions of ‘national security’ continued to haunt and harass the affected people through repressive instruments even at the height of the natural calamity. They looked around for conspiracy theories and easily found one; anti-social and anti-state elements inciting innocent people! A centuries old time tested policy of ‘divide and rule’ taught by their British masters.
These local nodes and angels presumably fed the senior officials and elected members with lies that they uttered with no scrutiny and tried to take political mileage out of it to repress democratic rights of freedom of speech, association and curb civil liberties, just to cover their incompetence, negligence and corrupt practices by blaming the victim.
Already in despair and anger, for the common people and the youth of the affected areas of Hunza-Nagar district, any small gesture of support made, or any finger pointing, were counted and numbered as either alleviating their sufferings or as disrespect for their human dignity, fundamental rights and notching their wounds.
Political wisdom, principles of justice, tolerance and respect for dissenting views started eroding much before the water started overtopping the barrier! At the earlier days of the disaster, the CM was quoted in the media as saying these people were ‘Nashukar’. Recently a senior Minister was overheard whispering and expressing similar sentiments to a PPP women leader and advisor to PM, even adding these people were destined to this kind of ‘Aafat’ because they were ‘Fahash log’ and not faith practicing!
The educated youth felt the wound and damages caused by both the natural disaster, and the kind of messages they received from the political leadership between the lines. It was clear to them that those who showed dissatisfaction to the quality and pace of work by the contractor making the spillway, and objected to the incompetence and mismanagement of officials responsible for relief operations were being targeted as anti-social and anti-state. The youth were also very conscious when media reported that some GBLA members in the assembly sniffed that the matter needs to be investigated as to which ‘community’ was behind such anti-state deeds, and that why such dissenting voices always emanate from ‘Hunza and Ghizer’ alone. Obviously, these members probably don’t bother to walk few steps at ChinarBagh and see why the list of those martyred in 1948 from Hunza-Nagar and Ghizer was so long, why majority of those killed in action to defend Pakistan at Siachen, Kargil and now in tribal areas are mostly from those areas, they were pointing fingers at?
Looking at this kind of mindset and pattern of arguments, it seems obvious that there are elements and forces within who are deliberately blaming the victims to camouflage their incompetence, corruption and bad governance. And there are those who want to create a rift between Hunza and Nagar, as the structure of the new district is going to be put in place, jobs and resources might be allocated, and some elements want to sow the seed of conflict on this route linking Pakistan with China, probably looking for a human disaster to multiply the effects of the ongoing crises. Beware, youth of Hunza-Nagar.
The Hunza-Nagar youth spread from Karachi to Khunjerab is united that during these hours of crises and throughout recovery and rehabilitation of the direct and indirect affected population of Hunza-Nagar district, the youth has to take the lead role in championing the cause of the downtrodden and becoming the torch bearers of merit, competence, pluralism and justice for all. The youth will not allow any ethnic cleansing through government sponsored expediency, whether the affected people are upstream or downstream, the youth must always stand for justice, fair-play and human dignity.
As the establishment of the new district of Hunza-Nagar is in the offing, the youth will need to play its proactive role in impressing upon the government to uphold merit, fairplay and principles of justice and equity in all recruitments, postings, contracts and allocation and disbursement of resources. United the youth, together they can make a real difference. As the KKH, China trade and tourism is the lifeline for both Hunza-Nagar. The youth must compel the government to discharge their duties, obligations and commitments diligently and befitting with quality and standards of public services and in the best interest of the people.
In order to protect the public interest, which is its prime responsibility, the people have the right to demand from the government to constitute a judicial enquiry and ask the contractee and contractor of the spillway what bench marks were there to achieve. What were the objectives and milestones of making the spillway? What was the initial design? What was the basis for designing a spillway? Was any assessment or boring done to ascertain what materials lie beneath? Who was responsible for design and implementation of the technical work? What was his/her professional competence? Was the technical design and guidelines implemented in letter and spirit? What loopholes were there? Why the contractor failed to achieve desired results despite escalating costs against initial estimates? Who is responsible? What actions must be taken, so that such criminal negligence or incompetence is avoided in future?
By blaming the affected people and their sympathizers as traitors, nobody is going to forget about this gross incompetence, underestimation and negligence. History will always ask these questions? What went wrong as we lost over 25 kms of KKH, so many strategic bridges on KKH, our vital and strategic link with China and the billions of loss to Pak-China trade? Not to talk of the total loses to the people directly affected villages, to Gojal, and whole Hunza-Nagar and GB, and the social, emotional, psychological and economic costs, as this is something these elements might think the poor people were destined to on moral grounds. Was these damages done to Pakistan’s vital interests, the work of the nationalists and those victims, whom these people call ‘agents of the enemies of the motherland’?
Are people not justified in saying that the real agents of the enemies of Pakistan live within?
Is the Chief Court in Gilgit-Balistan or the Supreme Court of Pakistan or the Parliamentary Committees on Environment and Communications not having any jurisdiction to take Suo motto action against those who breached the trust, compromised on vital national security interests due to incompetence, corruption, professional negligence, provision of bad services and professional misconduct? Is there any hope left to tell the people actually what went wrong, and why? The Bar Associations, the media, the civil society, the free judiciary and the national and international human rights groups have to play their roles to uncover the truth and take to task all those responsible for this episode.
For the youth of Hunza-Nagar, the direction seems clear now. They have to organize themselves, and proactively come forward and take the responsibility for their life, dignity and existence as affectees and victim of the circumstances. People of Hunza-Nagar happen to be ethnic and cultural minorities and our existence is at risk in a physically fragile, highly divisive social and political environment. Given the kind of mindset demonstrated by the senior government Ministers putting blame on the victims, we can not afford to stay aloof anymore.
The state of Pakistan has the responsibility to protect the rights of the people, under its jurisdiction even if under whatever expediency Pakistan continues to refuse constitutional and legal status to the region, despite voluntary and unilateral annexation of Hunza-Nagar with Pakistan, by the people. The paradox is Pakistan on the one hand denies constitutional, legal and citizenship rights to the people of Gilgit-Balistan and does not accept us as their voting citizen and representation in their parliament, and when we demand such rights and full integration in Pakistan or to be left alone or accept our basic human rights, we are blamed to be anti-Pakistan and anti-state and agents of XYZ!
Even if we accept that Pakistan’s hands are tied due to whatever political and diplomatic blunders it made in 1948 and the constitution of Pakistan is silent about Gilgit-Balistan, in the interim period, so long as the Kashmir issue remains unresolved, the state of Pakistan is bound to act and provide local governance to the people under its administration under UN Resolutions and guarantee fundamental human rights of the people under international human rights conventions. The current GBESG Order 2009 was partially welcomed by various quarters, but it seems that the division of subjects between the Council and the GBLA, the flawed Rules of Business and slow pace and weak capacity to implement the Order, is negatively affecting the development and democratization processes and harming the basic rights of the people.
As arrogant, unjust and uncaring attitude continues, and as incompetence, negligence, corruption and favouritism takes root, the youth, people and the victims have the right to continue to resort to direct democratic actions through peaceful means, and reach out to national and international forums to seek justice to protect their life, dignity and property on their own homeland.