The reality is neither enlightened nor moderate
Always quick to allege that India is engaging in state-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir, Pakistan has been long hiding its own systematic repression of the Kashmiri people through an insidious administrative trick. It has split its portion of the erstwhile Jammu & Kashmir state into two administrative units: the more well-known ‘Azad Kashmir’ province and the lesser known ‘Northern Areas’ of Gilgit and Baltistan. The Northern Areas are in a political limbo – they are not formally a part of Pakistan – which means they are not represented in the federal parliament, and constantly under the thumb of governors sent down from Islamabad.
That the Northern Areas have a Shia majority did not help – especially after General Zia-ul-Haq unleashed his vision of a fundamentalist Islamic nation. The people of the Northern Areas were massacred when they rose against Islamabad’s repressive rule during Zia’s time. The Pakistani armed forces who actually carried out the massacre were led among others by one Brigadier Pervez Musharraf.
Musharraf – Butcher of Gilgit? In May,1988, the Shias, who are in a majority in Gilgit, rose in revolt against the Sunni-dominated administration. Zia put an SSG group commanded by Gen. Musharraf in charge of suppressing the revolt. Gen. Musharraf transported a large number of Wahabi Pakhtoon tribesmen from the NWFP and Afghanistan, commanded by bin Laden, to Gilgit to teach the Shias a lesson. These tribesmen under bin Laden massacred hundreds of Shias.
In its issue of May,1990, “Herald”, the monthly journal of the “Dawn” group of publications of Karachi, wrote as follows: ” In May,1988, low-intensity political rivalry and sectarian tension ignited into full-scale carnage as thousands of armed tribesmen from outside Gilgit district invaded Gilgit along the Karakoram Highway. Nobody stopped them. They destroyed crops and houses, lynched and burnt people to death in the villages around Gilgit town. The number of dead and injured was put in the hundreds. But numbers alone tell nothing of the savagery of the invading hordes and the chilling impact it has left on these peaceful valleys.”
Gen. Musharraf started a policy of bringing in Punjabis and Pakhtoons from outside and settling them down in Gilgit and Baltistan in order to reduce the Kashmiri Shias to a minority in their traditional land and this is continuing till today. The “Friday Times” of October 15-21, 1992, quoted Mr. Muhammad Yahya Shah, a local Shia leader, as saying: ” We were ruled by the Whites during the British days. We are now being ruled by the Browns from the plains. The rapid settling-in of Punjabis and Pakhtoons from outside, particularly the trading classes, has created a sense of acute insecurity among the local Shias.”
Zia became the first victim of the carnage unleashed by Gen. Musharraf on the Shias of Gilgit. Though the Pakistani authorities have not released the report of the committee, which enquired into the crash of Zia’s plane in August,1988, it is widely believed in Pakistan that a Shia airman from Gilgit, wanting to take revenge for the May,1988, carnage, was responsible for the crash. [Really Bites]
Since then the repression has continued with less-bloody but no less heavy handed means. Along with a state-sponsored transmigration of ethnic Punjabi and Sunni serving and retired military personnel, successive regimes in Islamabad have implemented changes in the curriculum that are less than tolerant of Shias. Needless to say, this has kept the Northern Areas in constant ferment.
Pakistan’s treatment of Kashmiris in its own territory goes largely unnoticed, even within its own country. The international community should give General Musharraf a much required gift – a mirror.