On February 26, 2011, a representative of the Human Rights Observer International (HRO) accused the federal government of Pakistan for the continued targeted killings and related terrorist activities in Gilgit. The representative stated that Pakistani security forces and police stationed in Gilgit have appropriated billions of rupees in the name of maintaining law and order; however, with no real success.
While talking to the media, the representative also condemned recent killing of a prominent political leader, Mir Nawaz advocate, who was gunned down on Friday, February 25, 2011. The murder has sparked the new spate of violence in Gilgit leading to three deaths while two others sustained gun shots. The HRO has demanded removal of Pakistani security forces from Gilgit-Baltistan and have called these personnel biased against the natives on the sectarian lines.
Meanwhile, the religious clerics pertaining to different faiths have asked the people of Gilgit to carry weapons and arrange for private security as “local government has failed to fulfill its responsibility and lost the writ”.
Murder of a liberal and outspoken activist like Mir Nawaz is another indication of lack of freedom of expression and political activity that the people of GB face on daily basis. Local activists believe that tens of thousands of security forces and soldiers stationed in the region are not there to protect the natives but to control them.
Some activists now compare the situation in GB to that in Bahrain and Libya, where mercenaries have been brought in from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to murder, persecute and torture the natives, who demand basic rights as humans. The locals believe that targeted killing is orchestrated by Pakistani agencies to keep the locals divided.
In the name of search operation, security forces continue oppression and civilian arrests. While talking to the media on February 24, village elders from Haiderpura including Haji Taj, Haji Jafar and Nasir stated that the security forces brutally tortured and abducted a handicapped man from their neighborhood and accused him of involvement in terrorist activities. The accused remains in detention without arrest warrants and a charge sheet.
On the other hand, it has become a routine for hundreds of natives, who are employees of government departments like power and works department, WASA, road and building, teachers association, health and civil supply to stage protests in front of their respective offices or on the roads on daily basis. They demand basic rights for their families including food, health and educational services. Majority of them have not received their wages since last six months, as government claims to have no funds. There are those who have tried to commit suicide in front of their offices in protest of growing poverty and joblessness. These poor people who are roiled in poverty have no means to feed their children and the situation invites a reaction against the regime akin to one being offered in the Middle Eastern countries right now.
Instead of spending money on the security apparatus which is there to contain civil liberties of common people; same funds could be spent to produce educated children and provide more job andbusiness opportunities.
Senate Standing Committee
Senator Pervez Rashid, the member of senate standing committee on culture and tourism, has accused the federal government of neglecting development of these sectors by denying funds. The situation impacts the tourism and trekking industry of Gilgit Baltistan which is home to several peaks reaching 20,000 feet above sea level and hosts some of the longest glaciers outside the Polar Regions. It is in this region, where the three major mountain ranges of Asia, namely Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindukush converge; and major rivers like Indus, Shyok and Gilgit snake through these valleys before entering Pakistan.
According to Mr. Ali Madad, the president of Hunza Hotel Association, the year 2010 brought less than 2,500 tourists to the valley and this number includes several hundred Chinese present in the region to manage construction and mining ventures. On average, less than 10,000 tourists visit GB annually, a region with a population of more than 1.5 million people dependent on tourism to sustain their livelihoods.
It is also unfortunate that the revenues and trekking fees paid by the foreign tourists go exclusively to Islamabad; and political institutions in Gilgit city have no means to control that money. Most analysts put that amount at US$10,000 per trekker and climber per trip.
On the other hand, Leh district of Indian Ladakh with less than 150,000 people attracts more than 70,000 tourists annually, contributing to the overall economy and social development.
It is widely believed that opening GB region to the western tourists at a large scale can help improve the economy and empower the people. Similarly, cultural development can help ascertain local national identity and re-establish links with Ladakh, Kashmir and Tibet. One way to develop tourism industry at large scale is to open the Line of Control towards Ladakh and remove Pakistani military apparatus from the valleys where currently, tourism is banned.
As the Middle Eastern communities compete with each other to revolt against the regimes, which failed to entertain their genuine socio-economic needs, Pakistani rulers will have to take major steps of economic development in GB, especially directed at the core needs of the natives and not just to promote Islamabad’s strategic and military needs. Otherwise, the current wave of dissent that has reached the Persian Gulf and Kyrgyzstan can also impact GB. One must not forget that in GB, there are added and obvious reasons for an
uprising since Pakistan lacks sovereignty right over the disputed region, which has remained under her subjugation and illegal occupation since 1947.
One must also not forget that as Chinese grip on the region will tighten with the passage of time, it will also change the nature of tourism in the region. One has to wait to see if the Pakistani rulers will be more accommodating to the Chinese needs in devising a screening process to determine who and how many can visit the region.
At the moment, there are places in Hunza and Gojal, where the Chinese are pursuing infrastructural development and many of those sites are off limit even to the natives.
For the time being, there is a consensus that a demographically diverse large number of tourists must continue to arrive in GB to sustain its tourist industry.