Brussels, Apr 14 : Baronness Emma Nicholson, a member of the European Parliament, has criticised Pakistan for not paying adequate attention to the socio-economic plight of people residing in Gilgit and Baltistan, which forms a part of the Northern Territories of Pakistan.
Participating in a recent conference in Brussels which discussed the Constitutional status of Gilgit and Baltistan, Baronness Nicholson said: "This conference by the IKA has been called to focus specifically on the rights of people of Gilgit in Pakistan. This forms the heart of the European policy resolution because these people are without any rights at all that we have been able to ascertain. That's a very unusual situation in a country that calls itself a democracy, namely Pakistan. It is a very odd situation indeed."
Gilgit and Baltistan formed part of the undivided Jammu and Kashmir state when in October 1947, tribals from Pakistan invaded the princely state leading to its division between India and Pakistan.
Subsequently the government of Pakistan amalgamated Gilgit, Skardu and Baltistan into Pakistan terming them as the Northern Territories, and since then, are directly administered from Islamabad.
Opposing the amalgamation of Gilgit and Baltistan into Pakistan, International Kashmir Alliance representatives said that India under the Accession Treaty obligation should protect the rights and liberties of the people in the Northern Territories.
"In my opinion, this is the responsibility of Government of India, because the ingredients of the Treaty of Accession is that it is the responsibility of India to protect the right of liberty and the property of the Kashmiris," said Shaukat Ali Kashmiri, Secretary General of the IKA and Chairman of the United Kashmir People's National Party (UKPNP).
"Property doesn't mean my house, property means, the integrity of the state. This is the prime responsibility of India to push and vacate those who illegally occupied our states," he added.
The people of Northern Territories and Pakistan Administered Kashmir (PAK) protested against the arbitrary takeover of Gilgit and Baltistan by Pakistan. The amalgamation of these territories was challenged in the High Court of PAK and even the court felt impelled to declare Gilgit, Skardu and Baltistan a part of PAK.
"We feel that people living in those areas have been deprived of their Constitutional and political rights so far and despite tall claims by the Government of Pakistan, nothing concrete appears to have been done so far," said Abdul Rahim Rather, the Leader of Opposition in the Jammu and State Assembly.
"The Supreme Court, in a landmark verdict, had directed the Government of Pakistan that they should take all legislative and administrative steps for the enforcement of fundamental rights of the people living in those areas," he added.
Observers point out that the Northern Territories is strategically important, as to its north lies China, Tajikistan is in its northwest, Afghanistan in the west and Jammu and Kashmir is in the east.