Taliban spreads its wings in Gilgit-Baltistan
The recent abduction of a minister in Gilgit-Baltistan government by Taliban is a strong indication that the region has been pushed to militancy and the situation is on the verge of taking an ugly turn.
The socio-political situation is perpetrating very fast in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) because the region has been pushed to militancy owing to Pakistan's consistent atrocities. Thus the situation in the region is on the verge of taking an ugly turn. Noticeably, Taliban in the region abducted Abaid Ullah Baig, a minister in Gilgit-Baltistan government, along with his foreign companions on October 8, 2022, on Babusar Road, a major linkway between GB and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP). The blockade was imposed by militants led by Habibur Rehman, a wanted militant commander in GB, who is also accused of the murder of 10 foreigners at Nanga Parbat. They were demanding the release of their accomplices, and those who were apprehended in other murder cases.
Rehman, who is the key figure in this incident, escaped from a jail in Gilgit in 2015, after his arrest in 2013. His accomplices are currently incarcerated in Punjab, awaiting a trial in a military court. The militant commander Rehman, remained underground for years, and he appeared to the public on July 7, 2021, when he held an open court in Diamer district.
In a video message from Babusar in July 2021, Habib-ur-Rehman, a local Taliban commander in Diamer, demanded that the government of GB and Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) should fulfil the peace agreement with his group which, according to him, was signed in Khanbari in Diamer district in 2019. The video went viral, creating panic among local people.
However, after the negotiations with militants, the minister was kept in a house for six hours and was released along with his companions on a condition for the release of the armed men in 10 days, who were involved in terrorist incidents in which ten foreigners were killed in Nanga Parbat area in 2013.
The status of GB continues to remain a colonial region within the polity of Pakistan in the present progressive world. The incongruous status of this region has remained a source of discontent for the population. On granting provincial status to GB, political parties, particularly nationalists, expressed their reservations about the proposed reforms because the draft was not based on consultations with the stakeholders concerned and the local people.
In the last five years, the issue of land rights with respect to community land has become serious; pitching local communities against the government and elite capitalism, this issue intensified in 2021. A new trend is emerging with people protesting for their right to basic civic amenities like electricity, quality wheat, health, water, road, and internet connectivity almost every week across GB.
Curb on freedom of movement
The region under suppression since 1947 has been controlled by draconian laws at the will of Pakistan. The Fourth Schedule of the Anti-Terrorist Act (ATA) continued to be used as a tool to gag dissenting voices. Dozens of political activists on the list have continuously been monitored by Law Enforcement Agencies (LEA) and faced restrictions under this law, such as informing their local SHO about their social and political activities.
In September last, a sitting member of the GB Assembly from Baltistan, Ghulam Shehzad Aga, was barred from making a speech at a public meeting of his party in Skardu. Those on the Fourth Schedule list get their computerised national identity cards blocked, deprived of the right to travel within the country or abroad, and hence also deprived of Covid-19 vaccinations. Travel across national borders has become the main issue after the Taliban took over Kabul, especially in the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan which borders GB. The Wakhi community in GB has a long historical, cultural and linguistic relationship with their Wakhi kinfolk living across the border. A couple of months after the takeover of the Taliban in Afghanistan on 18 August, residents of the Wakhan valley of Afghanistan, who hailed from the Gojal valley of Hunza, crossed the border and entered the Chipurson valley of Hunza. On their arrival, they were arrested by the local police and handed over to the FIA in October 2021 under Section 14 of the Foreigners Act 1946. Later, they were allowed to live with their families in Gojal by the FIA.
The recent wave of grabbing lands from the local communities by the civil government and the administration in nexus with elite capitalists has rendered local people more vulnerable to exploitation.
In one incident, 100,000 kanals of barren land in Sakwar, Gilgit became a source of dispute between the government and the local community, according to the latter, which claimed that the government was trying to illegally acquire land for construction of government offices, including a police training school and police colony. Headed by Naib Khan, the community staged a protest and sit-in in Sakwar against this usurpation of land in September. Similar cases were witnessed in Chilmish Das, Thakdas, Maqpoondas, Napur, Barmas, Kot Mohallah, Nayee Koee, and other parts of GB. The opposition parties in GB lodged protests on many occasions, but the issue has not been resolved.
A clash occurred between the people of village Nomal and security forces over Chilmish Das (barren land between Gilgit and village Nomal). The people of GB were concerned about the exploitation of natural resources and land by the government and big investors. The establishment of the tourist resort Luxus Hunza at Attabad lake by Daniyal Lashari, from 2019 to 2021, created consternation among local communities as it is with the connivance of government machinery that such a huge infrastructure was allowed to be built in an ecologically fragile area.
According to experts, the area has witnessed the heaviest snowfall in the last half century due to climate change. Moreover, despite continuous natural disasters every year, the incidence of which has increased since 2010, internally displaced persons affected by previous disasters, including the Attabad disaster of 2010, continue to live in dismal conditions. On 18 May, a glacier lake outburst flood in Shishper caused an emergency in Hassan Abad, Hunza. Protective walls and land were hit and damaged by the flood. It also affected a portion of the Karakoram Highway in Hassan Abad. A similar incident occurred in Naltar valley on 6 July, causing damage to water irrigation channels, crops and forests. Four people were reported missing and found dead, and many were displaced.
(R C Ganjoo is a senior journalist and columnist having more than 30 years experience of covering issues concerning national security, particularly Kashmir. He has worked with several prominent media groups and his articles have been published in many national and international publications.)
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