By Ghulam Amin Beg
We hear this story again and again from our war veterans of 1948, ‘we liberated Gilgit-Baltistan from the Dogra Raj barefoot and with sticks our main weapon’. We will hear it on 1st November, the independence day of Gilgit-Baltistan.
We also often hear from our elders, that our forefathers had not enough food to sustain through winters, no shoe to wear, no blanket to warm children, no schools to enter in to learn, no hospitals to get treatment.
But we also hear that our forefathers were the happiest, their average life span over 80 and their general physique very strong. Because, they were hard working, were simple, honest and united in miseries and in happiness, resilient when disasters destroyed everything, yet they bounced back and rebuild everything from scratch through self-help.
Yet, we also observed with our own eyes that when the disaster hit this time, both Attabad landslide and its continued woes even today and the flash floods across GB and Pakistan, people were literally crying for food shortages, fuel shortages, shortage of milk, shortage of tents, blanket, cloth, even finding it difficult to survive for a week without ‘cash’ in their hands and how to fund the health and education bills? However, we also saw some communities seeing hope, and slowly returning to life again.
Yes things have changed the context and ground realities have changed from what our forefathers lived. Yes our needs and times are different. Yes we don’t need to put ourselves in their shoes. Yes there is always time and space for what we think, say and do.
But we can’t discount the argument that, we are heading towards undefined destiny, we live an alien’s life on our own homeland, at every step in government, economy and society we feel being discriminated, demoralized and dehumanized. Despite our myth of independence we are treated like a colony and forced to think, act and behave like oppressed; mute, submissive and always hands off. Isn’t it?
The overwhelming financial, social, cultural and economic challenges we face today, much of it comes because of our myth of independence, unchecked consumerism, unsustainable way of living and corrupt governance. We may say it has less to do with economics, but more to do with our political lunacy and psychology. Collectively, we suffer from chronic dependency syndrome.
It is rightly said, the strength of a community or nation is reflected in the character of its people, individual and group of citizens. While the people of Gilgit Baltistan throughout history remained fiercely independent, self-reliant and confident, we are gradually losing our identity, our character and our very purpose of being. We live in a state of dependence psychologically and have become so hesitant, unresponsive and submissive that, it seems we are being slowly poisoned or kept like mental patients giving special dozes.
Yes we get that since 1948. When Major Brown institutionalized the seeds of sectarian conflict, and when the British colonial masters before leaving Gilgit decided to link our fate with the resolution of Kashmir dispute, despite our resolve to make Gilgit-Baltistan an independent entity, and setting up of our own revolutionary structure and command and control system. Yes, the first political agent from Peshawar came with the very first order of imposing the notorious English law, the Frontier Crime Regulation- FCR in 1948.
Yes, the very first actions in the first five years were to close Kilik-Mintaka border with China, close the Ladakh-Leh passes, and disconnect the Burzil pass to Srinagar. Later during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the passes with Afghanistan was also closed, making Gilgit Baltistan virtually dependent on a single road and exchange link through Babusar and NWFP with Pakistan.
These were seemingly calculated moves to create dependency by cutting off external historical links and economic exchange relations, as well as through FCR clipping the wings of those, who may raise their heads and voices. The climax of it came, when whatever local autonomy was available in the form of local states and political districts these were abolished in the name of ending feudalism and bringing the areas under firm control of the district administrations. Another move was to co-opt the old aristocracy into the government structures and providing incentives. On the other hand, free hand was given to Pakistani political parties and religious groups to promote Pakistani political culture and sectarianism, while local nationalist parties were gagged, branded as anti-state and anti-Pakistan, so that no formidable voice and representation is made.
Why would the Pakistani establishment do this to Gilgit Baltistan, who voluntarily joined Pakistan, and majority of the innocent people still love to be part of whatever Pakistan is left there, and whatever the Paka Pakistanis are doing to Jinnah’s Pakistan?
The reasons are obvious. Its sheer selfishness and geo-strategic and security interests as narrowly defined in other contexts in Pakistan. The 72,496 square kilometer Gilgit-Baltistan region with over 1.4 million people lie at a geo-strategic junction between Central and South Asia, provides the only land link between Pakistan and China, borders with Indian administered Kashmir and Afghanistan on the north, with miles away from Tajikistan. It carries unique and vital catchment area for upper Indus River upon which over 80% of Pakistan’s irrigation, food production and hydroelectricity depends. The region is also known as an international biodiversity hotspot, contains the largest frozen water reserves outside the polar region, unique forest and mineral reserves, some of the world’s highest mountains, a hub where three giant mountain ranges meet, and a living museum of ancient culture and archaeological heritage on earth. GB is also a key trade corridor between landlocked western China, Central Asia and hot waters of South Asia through the Karakoram Highway and potentially rail links and gas pipelines in the future.
The Pakistani establishment thinks it can not let go Gilgit Baltistan or swing in opposing direction in any bargaining on Kashmir with India; neither has it wanted a Gilgit Baltistan which is genuinely autonomous or part and parcel of the federation of Pakistan which makes equitable claims on its share of resources. The overt assumptions are that the region is ethnically sensitive and volatile, but at the same time, there are serious misgivings about local capacities to generate revenues and to self-govern our own affairs.
And there is much credence to this assertion.
For example the little authority or powers transferred to GB over the last six decades were never fully exercised or utilized. Our capacities to legislate, plan and implement public sector programmes remain miserably corrupt and mismanaged. The best officers of Gilgit-Baltistan who serve the state institutions in Pakistan are not ready to voluntarily offer themselves to serve in Gilgit-Baltistan. The best professionals are either not interested to join the government or enter politics and keep the profession of public leadership to mediocre and special interest groups. The youth is not interested in making career choices in public administration, law, agriculture, forestry, pure sciences and the media.
There is vacuum in local governance, administration and oversight institutions. Though over the years talented young professionals are joining the administration and public sector organizations, the judiciary and the legislative assembly, yet this area is still left open to non-entities and corrupt people. Similarly, the media is still under-developed and requires dedicated professionals, both the print and electronic media and now the internet media, in order to voice peoples concerns, analyze critical issues and serve as watchdogs of public interest and conduct public accountability.
More importantly, our nationalist and left leaning parties are discredited by the agencies as anti-state and anti-social by forces of status quo. However these parties are also disconnected from the people and from ground realities that help mobilize masses at the grassroots. Hundred percent of the transportation of our main staple food, wheat is subsidized by Pakistan, 100 percent of the development fund and functioning of the government is funded by Pakistan. We are not ready to generate our own revenue system. Autonomy and independence are linked to self-reliance and self-help. Why should not Pakistan influence our policies and politics when they provide everything, not to talk of how they exploit our resources? It’s like the Americans influencing Pakistan.
This is one key reason that we remain incapacitated and are enchained in the vicious cycle of dependence. Like a captive audience or a tyrannized nation, we are controlled by officials, agencies and corrupt mafias from Islamabad and imposed by Islamabad and their local cronies.
With or against the tide, we always fail to set our strategic directions right or even fail to understand what determines the right choices to set a direction for the future.
Our social institutions, NGOs and the education system in GB foster passivity, social conformity and undermine possibilities of making the youth active agents of change. We are trained and tamed to line-up in schools and in public gatherings waiting for hours as captive audience to receive a petty government official and hear his non-sense speech. We are asked in schools and in public to stay at arms length and on the ground, while corrupt officials are decorated and respected with elevated chairs and garlands, while we are supposed to cheer up and raise slogans in praise of thy lords. We are told this is our culture to be humble, which is good, but autonomy and freedom requires that we ‘become realistic without becoming pessimistic, optimistic without becoming uncritical and critical without becoming cynical’.
We fail to do this at home, in our society, polity and education systems. This is enslaving the youth and the nation. Those who raise voice against such injustice and inhuman behaviour are termed subversive, anti-social and anti-culture and anti-Pakistan elements by the forces of status quo. Those who promote values of justice, equity, freedom, autonomy, self-reliance and national and cultural identity are considered as threats by such forces.
Only thinking minds can break this cycle of dependence. A pedagogical approach is required to critically assess, reflect back and move forward with clear direction and choices for the future.
There is a need to embed the notion of raising one’s voice and asserting one’s right to challenging authority in all its forms. Freedom is a state of mind, so is dependence. We have to change ourselves through self-examination as individuals, communities and as a nation and revitalize our core character of confidence, self-reliance, resilience, bravery and being fiercely independent, while at the same time espousing virtues of grace, wisdom, knowledge and peaceful co-existence.
Autonomy and Independence with vision, social responsibility and the capacities to retain and nurture it. Self-reliance is the key. So is mobilization of the youth and the masses through giving a new manifesto and new social agenda for change.
A new alliance of progressive, moderate and nationalist groups to revitalize the spirit of 1947-48, is very much the need of the time.