PoK leaders want merger with India
By d-sector Team
Fast changing geo-political equations have made India extend its helping hand to political groups in PoK who have now been openly seeking New Delhi’s help in their struggle for survival and freedom.
While all and sundry in India are criticising Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for bringing Balochistan on to the agenda of Indo-Pak bi-lateral talks, an international seminar organised in New Delhi has once again brought to the fore the approach-avoidance conflict India faces in dealing with the expectations of disenchanted communities from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and frontier regions.
Till recently India did not want to be seen as meddling in Pakistan’s internal affairs, but several political groups in PoK have now been openly seeking New Delhi’s help in their struggle for freedom, dignity and human rights, and now it seems New Delhi is willing to extend a helping hand to the distressed Karakoram communities. India now claims “legitimate interest in territories and peoples that are part of India but under illegal occupation, both to the west as well as to the east”.
These groups say that since India continues to consider the whole of Kashmir, including PoK, as its own territory, it is its duty to protect the local communities against Pakistan, a foreign aggressor for them.
Some of these political leaders and intellectuals from areas around Gilgit and Baltistan in PoK, referred to as Northern Areas by Pakistan, travelled to New Delhi to participate in the seminar on ‘Society, Culture and Politics in the Karakoram Himalayas’. The seminar was dominated by tales of discrimination and persecution of the local people in these areas by Pakistan’s civilian and military establishment.
“I am surprised that India has no concern about what is happening in Gilgit and Baltistan. Pakistan has been openly supporting and encouraging militants in Indian Kashmir and New Delhi doesn’t even want to keep contact with areas that are officially still a part of its own territory,” said Abdul Hamid Khan, chairman of Balawaristan National Front, a political party whose objective is to gain independence from Pakistan. Northern Areas are historically known as Balawaristan.
Khan, like most other political leaders from the region, lives in exile in Europe. He said the Indian position was even more surprising considering the fact that most political formations in the area were now open to a merger with India.
“Even an independent Balawaristan is in larger interest of India as it would not support terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
Shaukat Kashmiri, leader of the United Kashmir National People’s Party, one of the largest political formations in the region, also spoke about a reunification with India. Kashmiri, who is chased by the ISI, has been operating out of Switzerland for the past few years.
Though the leaders from PoK complained about the indifference India shows to their concerns, few former diplomats, army officials and intellectuals of India actively participated in the seminar.
Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Climate Change Shyam Saran made the inaugural address, in which he said, “The destinies of the Karakoram communities and the vision of India as a successful and inclusive plurality are in a sense, linked more than symbolically. We have a duty to be engaged more actively in the survival and I would venture to say, revival of these challenged communities.”
Evidently India is reaching out to the communities in the Karakoram areas – stretching from Swat, Buner, Waziristan, Balochistan and Xinjiang to Gilgit, Hunza and Baltistan in the Northern Areas to Jammu & Kashmir. Significantly, most of these areas lie within the territory of the erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir state.
India’s effort in getting together leaders from these regions is significant considering the rising unrest in several parts of Pakistan’s frontier regions as a result of the stresses of extremism and terrorism. For the first time, India is appealing to these indigenous mountain cultures, regardless of their religion, to bond as communities, rather than as parts of countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and China.
“It is our collective responsibility to preserve and to promote this varied culture, created by people who have a long history, settled existence and outstanding contributions to civilisation. India feels very much a part of this civilisational network which has enriched its own culture,” Saran said.
“In its interaction with Pakistan on Jammu & Kashmir, India has always insisted that all cross-LoC links and potential projects for cooperation in specific areas must cover the entire erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir, including Gilgit and Baltistan. Any consultative mechanism across the LoC must be between self-governing and representative entities and that, too, includes Gilgit and Baltistan,” he added.