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Gilgit-Baltistan erupts in protests over Pakistani atrocities

Gilgit-Baltistan erupts in protests over Pakistani atrocities

Kidnappings, murders and forced disappearances of activists don't make news headlines in Pakistan anymore. Neither are the daily protests which are organized all over the country, from Balochistan to Gilgit-Baltistan. But the strong-willed locals of Aliabad town in the Hunza Valley of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) are in no mood to give up this time.

Icy winds, rain and temperature which has already touched 1 degree Celsius at night hasn't deterred them to hold one of the biggest, longest, protests ever held against Pakistan in the region's history. Demanding the release of 14 local men, also known as GB14, who've been jailed by the Pakistani government for nearly a decade now, protestors' chants of "free 14 sons of Hunza" and "free Baba Jan" have been reverberating throughout the valley which has been in 'illegal and forcible occupation' of Pakistan for decades.

<img class="wp-image-16746 size-full" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Hunza-Free-Baba-Jan-Gilgit-Baltistan3.jpg" alt="" width="700" height="526" /> Baba Jan (right) and his comrades like Iftikhar Karbalai have been languishing in jails because they stood up for their fundamental rights and spoke against the atrocities committed by the Pakistani government and military

Baba Jan and his comrades like Iftikhar Karbalai have been languishing in jails because they stood up for their fundamental rights. They wanted the people of Gilgit-Baltistan to enjoy the same rights as other citizens of Pakistan. What they got instead was life imprisonment for 'inciting people against the government' and the most brutal form of torture inflicted by the Pakistani authorities. The Karakoram Highway has been blocked innumerable times; women, children, aged parents and relatives of the political prisoners have participated in hundreds of sit-ins; political, religious parties, human rights defenders and local activists have demanded the release of GB14 but their cries have only fallen on deaf ears. Neither Imran Khan nor his boss Pakistan Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa care about the fundamental rights and freedoms of people in PoK.

This time, however, the Aseeran-e-Hunza Rihaee Committee, a body formed to push for the freedom of Hunza's incarcerated citizens, has vowed that they will continue with the agitation till the prisoners are released. With the Opposition parties forming a united front in Islamabad, local politicians in Gilgit-Baltistan are also demanding justice for those jailed.

Nawaz Khan Naji, leader of Balawaristan National Front (BNF) and a former member of GB Assembly, joined the protest rallies in Hunza yesterday and told the Imran Khan government that it should start taking the people of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir seriously. "<em>CPEC Hunza se la rahey hain aur Hunza walon ko hi dara rahey hain</em> (They are getting China–Pakistan Economic Corridor through Hunza and are, at the same time, scaring the locals of the area). There will be no CPEC without giving a due share to the people of Hunza. Remember, people of Hunza can strike back at you, don't take them so lightly," Naji said in his speech to a huge gathering chanting "free 14 sons of Hunza."

<img class="wp-image-16747 size-full" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Hunza-Free-Baba-Jan-Gilgit-Baltistan2.jpg" alt="" width="720" height="540" /> Scene from a massive protest rally in Aliabad town of the Hunza Valley demanding immediate release of prisoners, including activist Baba Jan, in Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK)

Another politician, Javed Dawar, currently a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan and a leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement, has also joined the 'free Baba Jan' movement. "It is a shame that Baba Jan remains in prison. He is a leader of the people. He speaks for his people and he is being punished for that. In solidarity with the sit-in that has been going on for days in Hunza for the release of Baba Jan. We stand with Baba Jan," he tweeted.

The people of the region are already agitated with the government's move to grant a "provisional provincial status" to Glgit-Baltistan. Last month, Pakistan President Arif Alvi had announced that elections on the 24 general seats of the GB Legislative Assembly would be held on November 15, a move "completely rejected" by India.

<img class="wp-image-16748 size-full" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Hunza-Free-Baba-Jan-Gilgit-Baltistan1.jpg" alt="" width="960" height="910" /> Protests demanding immediate release of Baba Jan and other prisoners from Gilgit-Baltistan have also been organized outside Pakistan, like this one in front of the Pakistani embassy in Berlin

"We have seen reports regarding announcement of elections to the so-called 'Gilgit-Baltistan' legislative assembly to be held on November 15, 2020. The government of India has conveyed its strong protest to the government of Pakistan and reiterated that the entire union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, including the areas of so-called Gilgit and Baltistan, are an integral part of India by virtue of its accession in 1947. The Pakistan government has no locus standi on territories illegally and forcibly occupied by it," a statement by India’s External Affairs Ministry said.

As you read this, the residents of GB pray for a miracle even as incidents of enforced disappearances, secret detentions, and extrajudicial killings—perpetrated by the police and military and security forces—continue to increase alarmingly all over Pakistan. The families of disappeared persons deserve nothing but praise for being brave enough to hold protests, like the massive one being held in Aliabad currently, instead of crumbling under pressure after being subjected to daily threats and intimidation.

<img class="wp-image-16749 size-full" src="https://indianarrative.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Hunza-Free-Baba-Jan-Gilgit-Baltistan.jpg" alt="" width="1024" height="766" /> Another view of a massive protest rally held in Aliabad town of the Hunza Valley demanding immediate release of prisoners, including activist Baba Jan, in Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).