Pakistan treats Gilgit-Baltistan “like a colony”, a US-based activist from the strategic region bordering PoK has alleged, as he demanded that a UN-established fact-finding mission be sent to determine the conditions of imprisoned dissidents. Gilgit-Baltistan has a regional Assembly and an elected chief minister. Pakistan considers it a separate geographical entity. Like Vietnam, Gilgit-Baltistan cannot end rights abuses without the help of the international community, Sange Sering, chairman of the Movement for Democracy in Gilgit-Baltistan, said at a recent event held at the US Capitol. “Pakistan has been treating Gilgit-Baltistan like a colony”, he alleged.
“We request President (Donald) Trump and the State Department to help the UN establish a fact-finding mission to determine the conditions of imprisoned political dissidents in Pakistan and to impress upon the Pakistani leadership to uphold democratic ideals including free speech and movement. “As we speak, Pakistan’s military and intelligence agencies are busy seizing thousands of acres of private land in Gilgit-Baltistan and those who oppose such illegal policies are declared terrorist and face torture and incarceration,” Sering told a gathering of US lawmakers, Congressional staffers, government officials and human rights experts at the 24th Commemoration of Vietnam Human Rights Day.
The Asian Human Rights Commission’s report on Gilgit-Baltistan states that such practices of land grabbing have resulted in the displacement of locals and a state sanctioned demographic change, he said. The report claims that the non-local proportion of the population in Gilgit-Baltistan has increased significantly in recent years since government is violating a local law called State Subject Rule, which has opened the floodgates of immigration from Pakistan, he told the audience.
“Today, members of political and civil society organisations in Gilgit-Baltistan, many who I count as personal friends, face harsh treatment, long sentences and an unknown future for demanding right of speech, publication and movement across the Indo-Pak Line of Control,” Sering said. Rahat Husain, advocacy director for Universal Muslims Association of America (UMAA) spoke on Shia persecution in Pakistan.
“As Shia Muslims, we stand with all persecuted peoples, including the Christian community in Vietnam. Their plight is similar to that of the Shia Muslims in Pakistan, who suffer violence at the hands of state sponsored militants on a daily basis. These crimes against religious freedom must stop,” he said.
Last year, media reports said that Pakistan was planning to declare the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan region as its fifth province, a move that may raise concerns in India as it borders the disputed Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh are the four provinces of Pakistan.