Saturday, September 5, 2009

Changes In History of Northern Areas

That the announcement of the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order in northern areas by PM Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has been received with a mixed reaction should be no surprise. The cross-section of historical legacy with political imperatives provides the basis for the present controversy around the strategically important region that has common border with Afghanistan and Xinjiang region of China in the north of the country. However, seen in the context of long-standing struggle of the people of Gilgit and Balochistan for their fundamental, political and legal rights, the up gradation of the status of the northern areas under the Order is a new milestone in the history of the region, for which Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) can rightly claim credit. For, since the first PPP government led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took the initiative almost four decades ago to constitute northern areas out of Gilgit Agency, Baltistan District and the states of Hunza and Nagar, no government paid any attention towards redressing the grievances of the people of these areas.

The region officially known as Northern Areas of Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan will have an area of 27971 square miles and a population of approximately 1,000,000. The region was a part of princely State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) before 1947. This is the reason why the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir refer these areas as part of J&K for the purpose of determining its future through a plebiscite. But the people of Gilgit and Baltistan had never accepted the forcible occupation of their land by pre-partition Dogra rulers. In 1947, through a popular revolt against Maharaja Hari Singh, they got themselves liberated from the yoke of Dogra rule. The Mirs of Hunza and Nagar and other chieftains of the areas requested Pakistan to assume direct responsibility for the administration and security of the Agency. Pakistan agreed to their request, pending the settlement of the future of J&K, under the provisions of the Interim Constitution of Pakistan (1947-54), which allowed any "other area" with the consent of the federation to be included in Pakistan. Since then the people of Gilgit and Baltistan have been demanding a status for their region equal to other provinces of Pakistan. The successive governments of Pakistan, however, did not pay any heed to the popular aspirations of the people of these areas, who were groaning under the oppressive laws and regulations enacted and enforced during the colonial era. When a mass popular movement against the autocratic regime of Ayub swept the whole of Pakistan in 1968-69 and demanded the restoration of democracy, the people of Gilgit and Baltistan also organised a movement for their rights and voiced their demands for an end to the centuries old system of feudal slavery. This is to be noted that General Yahya Khan, who took over from Ayub Khan accepted East Pakistan's demand for one-man-one vote as the basis of 1970 elections and also agreed to the dismemberment of One Unit granting provincial status to Balochistan, but did nothing either for FATA or the northern areas, although both of these regions, like other parts of Pakistan, direly needed political reforms. When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto assumed power in 1972, the initiation of development works in FATA and introduction of political reforms in the northern areas were among the earliest measures taken by the first PPP government in response to the aspirations of the people of Pakistan expressed during the mass popular movement of 1968-69. Mr Bhutto was keenly interested in altering centuries old status quo in these areas and in order to bring it about he established personal rapport with the people by visiting these areas a number of times and by directly speaking to the people through public rallies

Team HunzaHistory

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