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Indian interest in Gilgit

By Shabbir Mir
As the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) progresses, India has placed more focus on Gilgit-Baltistan in an attempt to exploit the undecided constitutional status haunting its people since decades.

This could be the best India could do to a region that according to it is Indian territory forcibly occupied by Pakistan.

One can understand India is deeply upset over the multibillion dollar project which is believed to transform Pakistan’s ailing economy, taking it ahead of India in the long run. And Gilgit is considered a soft target to achieve the goal; derail progress on the project.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Independence Day speech did mention Gilgit — along with Balochistan and Azad Kashmir — and claimed the people from the areas thanked him ‘for raising voice against human rights violations in the territory.’

Whether the people in Gilgit thanked his government or not, it proved India’s heightened interest in the Gilgit region bordering China. Gilgit serves as a gateway to the CPEC as it will pass through about 450 kilometres in Gilgit-Baltistan.

Modi’s words weren’t the first thing to make a reference to Gilgit nor were the last. Many others followed the suit to poke their nose into what they call human rights violations in Gilgit-Baltistan.

But what was ironic was the role of Indian mainstream media that went a step ahead reporting things that never happened. For example, The Times of India portrayed a video on August 13 of an election rally as a separatist uprising against Pakistan.

The video, originally shared by India-based Asian News International agency, was shared by multiple Indian outlets as evidence of an ongoing separatist movement in which hundreds of arrests have been made. Indian media also picked a shutter down strike as a protest against the presence of Pakistan army in Gilgit.

The distorted story triggered a sharp reaction in Gilgit, forcing Awami Workers Party (AWP) to issue a clarification. “AWP calls on Indian news outlets to retract the baseless stories regarding this rally and adequately investigate the stories they are reporting on, rather than serving as a mouthpiece for government propaganda,” read the AWP’s official statement rejecting the ‘baseless reports.’

The video shared was from an election rally as part of the AWP’s campaign for a by-election for the Legislative Assembly.

The distortion of facts dented the credibility of Indian media in the eyes of the public in Pakistan who hitherto trusted it.

While the CPEC appears to offer little for Gilgit, the issue shouldn’t be a headache for a third party, especially India that has unleashed the worst kind of state-sponsored terrorism in held Kashmir.

For us, it is between the federal and Gilgit government to sort out.

But here lies a lesson for the federal government too. If you won’t be sympathetic to your people, someone else will be.

It’s time the federal government took a firm decision about Gilgit’s share in the CPEC and representation in parliament.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 29th, 2016.

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