By Farooq Wani
Pakistan and India’s vastly divergent political trajectories are often treated as a puzzle. Despite the fact that the people of both countries had a common past, India has ended up as a vibrant democracy with elected governments firmly in control, whereas Pakistan has witnessed a series of direct military interventions in the past and though it has an elected government in place for some time now, the army still controls Islamabad’s foreign and domestic policies from behind the scenes. This has created a severe civil-military imbalance that is retarding Pakistan’s progress. By institutionalising fundamentalism Gen Zia ul Haq sowed the seeds of sectarianism and due to this Pakistan is today reaping a bitter harvest of religious intolerance and it is ironical that India which Islamabad accuses of being a ‘Hindu nation’ has a far better record of ethnic and communal diversity than Pakistan.
The prevailing situation in Pakistan is grim because those misleading the masses by misusing religion have succeeded in attaining such phenomenal influence and sweeping powers that even the Pakistan army seems to be helpless. An example of this is DG Pakistan Rangers Punjab Maj Gen Azhar Naveed distributing cash envelopes in order to placate members of Tehrik Labbaik Ya Rasool, a fundamentalist organisation that had paralysed Islamabad by staging a sit-in at Faizabad! The fallout of such pandering to groups with extremist ideology is that word secular is virtually absent from Pakistan’s social discourse, both in letter and spirit. The voices of those who understand that secularism doesn’t imply atheism and wish to see the correct interpretation of Islam are drowned by the fanatics and the fear of being charged with blasphemy forces them to remain quiet and silently endure the sorry state of affairs.
Muslims in India and Pakistan are roughly the same in number, but even though Indian Muslims comprise only 18% of the nation’s population being predominantly moderate they are a progressive society. On the other hand, regional inequality in Pakistan has created widespread turmoil. Balochistan is a land endowed with natural resources but the genuine demand of its people for their basic rights is being crushed with an iron fist by the Pakistan army and atrocities being committed on innocent civilians have given birth to an insurgency. Instead of giving the Balochis their fundamental rights and a fair share of the income that Pakistan is getting from natural products being extracted from Balochistan, the army is instead terrorising its people by following the infamous ‘kill and dump’ policy. The prevalent unrest, due to extreme poverty, instability and the systematic looting of natural wealth of the resource rich province, is being accentuated by the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that is looked upon as yet another attempt by the federal government to fully colonise the region.
The anguish of the people residing within this restive province remains unheard since the region is being kept behind the proverbial iron curtain by the government and the army. Media is almost non-existent and local protests are suppressed with an iron hand; local Baloch activists simply disappear from the face of the earth.
Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), formerly called the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA), is the larger political entity of the occupied territories with an area of 72,496 square kms. It is directly administered by Pakistan as a de facto dependent territory, i.e., a non-self-governing territory. However, it has ostensibly been granted “full autonomy” on August 29, 2009. However, the residents of GB have seen through Islamabad’s game plan
and are no longer ready to take things lying down. They are coming out in large numbers to protest against the arbitrary manner in which they are being treated. “People of Kashmir feel Pakistan has been ruling over us through the Kashmir Council. It needs to be abolished,” said a leader of the United Kashmir People’s National Party (UKPNP). Such protests have been intensifying of late.
The CPEC is designed to pass through the occupied territory of Gilgit-Baltistan and since this region is internationally recognised as disputed area, Pakistan’s approval of this alignment is in itself, completely illegal. It is also immoral to the extent that permission for the passage has not been sought from the locals. Had Islamabad and the Pakistan army treated residents of GB with due respect and made them feel part of Pakistan things could have been different. However, the Pakistani establishment has brazenly indulged in persecuting natives of GB on one pretext or the other and crushing dissent by large scale use of security forces. The most despicable thing is Islamabad’s attempt to subdue public resentment by changing the demography of the region!
People in GB are virtually living in a colonial era where they are being subjected to unspeakable oppression and human rights violations. Director of the Washington-based Gilgit Baltistan Institute, Senge Hasnan Sering has summed up the pitiable condition of GB residents by saying, “”We don’t have the right to elect our own representatives in Pakistan’s Parliament. We don’t have a judiciary and constitutional rights. The region is run by the executive orders of the Minister for Kashmir Affairs from Islamabad.”
Despite the way minorities are being treated in Pakistan and its step motherly treatment towards Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK), the Hurriyat continues to press for Indian administered Kashmir (IaK) joining Pakistan. There may be resentment against New Delhi in IaK but this doesn’t justify our jumping into Pakistan’s hands. A pluralistic society with a tolerant culture like ours will obviously be seen as a threat by the fanatical elements in Pakistan that preach sectarianism, will these forces allow us to uphold our centuries old religious, cultural and social practices and values? In the mid nineties we saw how foreign militants had banned Kashmiris from paying obeisance at dargahs and how a Pakistani militant named Mast Gul had desecrated Charar-e-Sharief by moving in there with guns and bombs.
Charar-e-Sharief happened a long time ago and memories of this tragic event have almost faded. However this tragic incident forewarned us about the existence of a very dangerous mindset that symbolises present day Pakistan. As this perverse outlook has no regards whatsoever for the religious sentiments of others and considers forcible imposition of a particular set of beliefs on others I have a suggestion for the Hurriyat – please look before you leap!
*Farooq Wani is a Kashmir senior journalist and political analyst.