Land reforms in Gilgit-Baltistan force residents into destitution

In a time when Pakistan is reeling from a series of crises, the common man has all hopes tied to the government. They count on their leaders to make life easier for them and give them a reason to live another day. The government has to be a beacon of hope for the people. But Pakistan being what it is, has chosen this time to bother the already oppressed people of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) by introducing unfair land reforms.

Recently, government circles have claimed that land disputes will be dealt with once and for all. This has led to a lot of confusion and ambiguity. The current setup of Gilgit-Baltistan has no constitutional protection. The GB Assembly had been constituted only under an Executive Order; it’s not a Constituent Assembly and has limited legislative powers. In the scheme of things the biggest stakeholders of the lands, the local people, are not even being formally consulted. They are agitated because the government and the assembly do not have the power to carry out land reforms in this illegally occupied region.

If the government continues on this road, it will create a new rift among residents. Initially, the 20:80 formula was supposed to be made law, according to which 80 percent of the land was to be owned by the people and 20 percent was to be assigned to the government. But today no one bothered to consult the locals, especially in the reserved areas. How can an assembly in a disputed region, constituted only under an executive order legislate for public lands? There is no such law in the rulebook that could allow this!

The ruling party does not even have a two-thirds majority in the assembly, and yet it is going about this business. There have been many bloody clashes between the people and the district administration over this. Gilgit-Baltistan has been passed around like a ball; first, it was recognized internationally as controversial with a temporary relationship with Pakistan, after that the United Nations Security Council’s Kashmir issue resolution came along, then Pakistan decided its position on the Kashmir issue, and the Supreme Court and Lahore High Court took major decisions regarding it through the years.

Unlike the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir, the people of GB do not enjoy any rights as citizens of Pakistan, nor are they represented in national and international bodies including National Assembly and Senate. They are treated like a colony and an ATM owing to their rich resources. The CPEC is ruthlessly using their land and resources which the Pakistani government is banking money and quietly watching the show.

The state-subject rule in Gilgit-Baltistan exists only on paper. For thousands of years, the Kashmiri people have owned lands from the river to the mountain. The former Maharaja had created and enforced the state-subject rule in the former state of Jammu and Kashmir. Though in 2019 Jammu and Kashmir was converted into a Union Territory for developmental purposes and integration with the rest of India, it will soon gain its statehood again. On the other hand, Gilgit Baltistan will lose everything they own if the land reforms are passed.

Taking historical facts and the position of Gilgit-Baltistan into account, the changes in the land reforms are fraudulent, treacherous, and a cruel joke to the public, who are the real stakeholders. The 33-member assembly is using manipulation and forgery in the name of land reforms that will cause the people to lose their lands and rights and truly make them bonded slaves to the Pakistani state. People are taking to social media and mobilizing the public to understand property rights. Land records from the 1700s and 1800s are resurfacing online. The public is resisting and standing up against the establishment. They are ready for physical combat if a full-time fair resolution for the land disputes is not passed.

International bodies cannot turn a blind eye to the atrocities of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. They are oppressed by Pakistan on one hand and taken advantage of by China on another. Human Rights violations against them should not go unheard.

By Editor

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