.: Opinions

Date: 27 Mar 2012



Skardu Kargil road :Tear down the Berlin Wall of Asia

Engineer Manzoor Hussain Parwana

Hundreds of thousands of angry people have gathered in Skardu and Kharmang valleys where the slogans of long march to Kargil are echoing in the air. The protesters are shouting against the regime and the military for failing to maintain law and order in Gilgit Baltistan. They are demanding arrest of the murderers of 18 Shias of Gilgit-Baltistan who were recently shot and killed in Kohistan. All the victims were part of the religious tour-group, returning from Iran, and were traveling in a bus on the Karakoram Highway (KKH), which connects Gilgit Baltistan with Pakistan.



The Death Highway, as KKH is often dubbed, has consumed hundreds of lives since its construction in 1978. However, it is not the reckless driving or bad road condition, which takes so many lives. In most of the cases, religion has become the main catalyst behind these deaths. The well-organized protests have forced both the army chief of Pakistan and the home minister to visit Gilgit Baltistan, which also reflects on this reality that the slogans of ‘long march to India’ have finally persuaded the authorities to pay attention to the unstoppable killings of Shias of Gilgit-Baltistan. The authorities ensured the protesters of immediate action against the perpetrators; however, their tactics to mollify the angry mob would not change the fact that not a single assailant has been arrested and prosecuted in the last six decades.



On the other hand, the protesters are asking the regime to immediately open the Line of Control (LOC) with India and resume travel over the historical trade routes leading to Kargil, Drass, Khaltse and Nubra. These demands are old and consistent but have gained momentum since 2003, when Shia killings on KKH became a more common occurrence.



For last six decades, the LOC has functioned like the Berlin Wall of Asia dividing the people of Gilgit Baltistan and Ladakh, who are otherwise linked through common history, civilization, geography, culture, religion, language and economy. The people of both regions term this division unnatural and demand resumption of trade and travel across the LOC. These trade routes which open towards Ladakh and Kashmir have sustained the livelihoods and culture of Gilgit Baltistan for centuries. Until 1948, the Baltis and Astories used these routes to access markets, and educational and health facilities in Srinagar, Shimla and New Delhi. The entire life of the people of Baltistan and Astore depended on these routes. In 1948, when India and Pakistan engaged in a war over Jammu & Kashmir, the passage was closed down isolating Baltistan from the rest of the world. It was not until 1978, after a jeepable dirt road connected Baltistan with Gilgit, when the people of Baltistan started traveling by land again. For all those 30 years from 1948 to 1978, commodities were flown into Baltistan by air. Closure of these routes destroyed economy of Astore, Skardu and Gangche districts and deeply affected the valleys of Kharmang, Gultari and Chorbat. Among the affected people are tens of thousands of refugees who desire to meet their loved ones and wait for India and Pakistan to end their war over Kashmir and enable free travel across LOC. These refugees belong to Skardu, Shigar, Nubra, Gultari, Kharmang, Turtuk, Tyakshi, Chulungkha, Chorbat, Chushot, Kargil, Leh, Drass and Zanskar.



The slogan to resume travel and trade over Kargil-Skardu road was first raised in the early 1990s and Syed Haider Shah, the then leader of Baltistan Students Federation organized rallies to garner support. He declared to lead a long march towards Kargil for which he was charged for sedition and detained and tortured for several months in Chilas prison. Often such demands are seen by Pakistani rulers as mutinous and activists raising such slogans are often labeled as Indian agents as part of victimization and intimidation campaign by the Pakistani secret service agents. The agents also spread rumors in Gilgit Baltistan that India would easily occupy the disputed region if the traditional roads are opened towards Ladakh and Kashmir. For some times, such rumors did manage to thwart the general public from intensifying their just demands for free travel and trade.



In 2005, the scribe traveled to India to attend a conference on Jammu & Kashmir and once again demanded resumption of travel and trade over Kargil-Skardo road. In 2007, Gilgit Baltistan Democratic Alliance, the largest political alliance of Gilgit Baltistan, incorporated this slogan as part of its manifesto. Nowadays these slogans have become very popular and even the federalist political parties rely on such slogans to gain attention and sympathy of the masses.



However, one must admit that both India and Pakistan have failed to implement on this particular aspect of CBMs and to the dismay of many, the issue of resuming travel over Kargil-Skardo road was also dropped from the agenda of July 2011 foreign ministerial meeting. The apathetic attitude of Pakistani government thereafter forced thousands of Ladakhi refugees to protest in front of the UNO office in Skardu on July 27th.2011. The next day, police arrested and detained the scribe in Gilgit jail for supporting the protest rally of Ladakhi refugees. The FIR No. 211/11 filed against the scribe stated: “Manzoor Parwana provoked the masses by drawing attention towards a protest rally in Skardu on 27th of July during which resumption of travel on Kargil-Skardu road was demanded. The participants of the rally threatened to march towards the LOC and Parwana welcomed this gesture of the refugees. Therefore Parwana has been charged for treason under articles 123A, 124A and 153A.”



The FIR proves that supporting a march towards Kargil or demanding resumption of travel across the LOC is considered treason by the authorities. This remains the policy till date despite the fact that travel and trade from Khokhrapar in Sindh, Lahore in Punjab and five other transit points in Jammu & Kashmir continue between India and Pakistan with the approval of authorities. If travel to India from Lahore, Muzaffarabad and Khokhrapar is not a treason, then travel to Kargil and Leh from Gilgit Baltistan should also be allowed. A ban on travel between Gilgit Baltistan and Ladakh continues despite the fact that freedom of travel and commercial activities are granted to every human according to the human rights charter of the UNO and Pakistan is signatory to that charter. The FIR exposes anti-human and unjust policies of Pakistani rulers. The fact that Pakistan continues to discriminate between the people of Gilgit Baltistan and those living in Kashmir, Punjab and Sindh reminds one of the apartheid era. Free travel is the birth right of every resident of Gilgit Baltistan and they will not stop from demanding it.



The march of thousands of people of Kharmang valley towards Kargil on 28th February, 2012 is approval of the viewpoint of the nationalists. Despite curfew restrictions and danger to life, honor and property, the protesters marched towards the LOC and even the military barricades could not stop their movement. The movement has intensified after the representatives of Shia and Sunni religious parties; Anjuman Imamia and Anjuman Ahlesunnat Waljamat, have endorsed the demands by incorporating into the charter of demands to the government of Pakistan.



The message is loud and clear that the people of Gilgit Baltistan and Ladakh cannot be kept separated any much longer. In the midst of the slogans of ‘long march to Kargil’ rising in the air, it was informed that the nationalist hero, Babajan Hunzai, expresses solidarity with the protesters from the dungeons of Gilgit jail, where he has been kept since last five months for demanding rights for the flood victims of Gilgit Baltistan.



This is the victory of the nationalist ideology that people like Babajan and the scribe represent and many among us have sacrificed time, energy, physical and mental health and economic wellbeing to promote this cause. Despite social boycotts, detentions and torture, the nationalists will continue to spread the message of truth and humanity among the natives of Gilgit Baltistan.

Author is Chairman , Gilgit Baltistan United Movement.

Skardu

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