New Delhi/Geneva, March 11 (IANS) A rights activist at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, disputed Pakistan’s sovereignty over the Gilgit-Baltistan region and sought a due share for the indigenous people, as a third and equal partner, in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Gilgit-Baltistan, the northern portion of the then princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, which acceded to India in 1947, was occupied by Pakistan in an invasion. It borders Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) to the south, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan to the west, Afghanistan to the north, Xinjiang region of China to northeast and Ladakh (India) to the southeast.
The CPEC, through several infrastructure and development projects, aims to connect China’s landlocked westernmost province to the Arabian Sea, under President Xi Jinping’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative.
Senge Hasnan Sering, the Washington DC-based director of the Gilgit-Baltistan National Congress (GBNC), a diaspora group that raises awareness of rights violations in the region under Pakistan’s occupation, slammed Pakistan at the UNHRC session in Geneva on Tuesday.
He told the council that the Pakistani regime was in clear violation of human rights, including “freedom of speech and movement” for declaring the people of Gilgit-Baltistan “terrorists” only because they have been demanding their due share in the CPEC.
Pakistan should refrain from doing so, Hasnan told the council urging the Imran Khan government to release all political prisoners of Gilgit-Baltistan, including those serving life time.
“The locals claim representation in the CPEC as a third and equal partner since both China and Pakistan lack a sovereignty over their land. Locals oppose unconstitutional land reforms and unconstitutional 2020 ordinance imposed by Pakistan as both rob locals of decision and their cultural identity while empowering Pakistani and Chinese citizens to abuse common property regime with impunity,” he told the council.
Pakistan, he said, must not operate Gilgit-Baltistan like a prison for locals. It must open routes towards Ladakh and Afghanistan, to let divided families reunite and enable Buddhists of Ladakh visit religious sites in the region, he said.
People in Gilgit-Baltistan, he said, ask if Indian Sikhs are welcome in Kartarpur in Pakistan, then why are Ladakhi Buddhists deprived of similar religious rights. “Why the double standards, Pakistan, why?,” he asked.
Hasnan reminded Pakistan and China about their “commitment to promote and protect human rights, including accountability for violations” and requested both to cooperate fully with the council when dealing with “disputed lands like Gilgit-Baltistan.”
The activist asked Pakistan to completely withdraw from Gilgit and “enable genuine stakeholders to solve the chronic problem.”