The Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) area of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) was one of the first and worst to be affected by the floods caused by the recent monsoon and breaches of dams and water reservoirs in Pakistan. The damages spread from there to other parts of Pakistan. The devastation caused by flash floods in GB preceded that in Ladakh and was even worse. Finding that the Pakistan Government was unable and unwilling —-because of the floods in other areas— to come to the help of the people of GB, local nationalist organizations sent out SOS messages to India and the other members of the international community to help them. These messages started coming in from the second week of August.
2. In a direct appeal to the international community, Mr. Abdul Hamid Khan of the Balawaristan National Front of GB stated as follows: “52 people have died and 160 rendered homeless in the village Qamrah of occupied Gilgit Baltistan region, and 22 have died, 40 rendered homeless in village Talas, 45 died and 70 injured in Giyes of Diamar. Similarly, in Talas 22 people were killed and 40 houses destroyed while in Hotoo, Rondu, Darel, Tangir, Botogah, Khinar, Thor, Hoodoor,Babusar, Gini, Hunza Nagir, Chhamoogardh Colony of Konodas and Skarkooi, Gilgit, Ghowadi Baltistan, Yasen, Gulaper, Isshqaman, Damas, Ginday, Sandhi, Hondoor, Dahrkoot, Mastuj, Booni, Garam Chashma, Yarkhoon in Chitral, and Koli and Pattan in Kohistan over 500 people have lost their lives whereas, more than half a million have become homeless and nearly 50,000 families have completely lost everything, including land, shelter, livestock and all means of living”. I had referred to this message in my article dated August 26,2010, titled “SOS from Khyber Pakhtunkwa, Balochistan & Gilgit-Baltistan” at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers40/paper4000.html
3. In a statement disseminated from Skardu, Mr.Manzoor Hussain Parwana, the Chairman of the Gilgit-Baltistan United Movement (GBUM) demanded that the Indian aid coming for relief victims should also be shared with the people of Gilgit Baltistan. He also demanded that the Kargil-Skardu and the Astore-Srinagar roads should be opened immediately to provide relief to the local people. He requested the international community to play a greater role in providing relief to the flood victims of GB. He said: “The region is cut off from the rest of the world for the last 20 days due to flashfloods and landslides. Commodity and food prices have skyrocketed and causing famine like situation. Many villages have been flattened. Lack of medicines has caused endemic diseases in the region. GB is a disputed territory under Pakistani administration. The people of GB have no hope from the Pakistani Government since the country itself is in crisis and the regime lacks the capacity and the will to provide for the millions of flood victims in the rest of the country. While the rulers look towards the international community for help, the relief is coming at much slower pace due to lack of credibility of the Pakistani authorities, who embezzled billions of rupees of relief funds during the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir. Given the circumstances, the international community and especially neighbouring countries have to enhance their direct influence in the relief work.”
4. He further said that the current puppet government of GB had failed to repair the road network. “Every village is cut off from the rest and no relief has reached the affectees. Government has resorted to releasing statements in the newspapers and made false claims of improvement in the conditions of the natives. With the closure of the Karakoram Highway (KKH), the Gilgit-Skardu Road, the Ghizer-Chitral road, and the Hunza-China section of the KKH, the prices of food items have increased. Food items, kerosene and gasoline are not available in the markets. The problems will continue to increase as the situation worsens. Pakistani helicopters are only working to evacuate the foreigners and military officials and related loved ones, and have failed to service the poor natives. This is sheer discrimination towards the people of GB. Pakistan has conspired to disrupt traffic on the Kargil-Skardu road and the Astore-Gurez road for all these years. Further, the creation of the Ataabad Lake has obstructed traffic to China for the coming months. Under these circumstances, the Government must make immediate effort to open the Kargil-Skardu road to provide relief to the affected people of Skardu district, Shigar district, Gangche district, Kharmang district, Astore district and Deosai-Gultari district. In the same manner, the Ishkoman road to Tajikistan and Wakhan should be opened to benefit the people of Ghizer district. The road from Astore to Srinagar must be used immediately to supply food and ration to the poor two million people of the region. In this great time of need, the people of GB expect neighbors to play a greater role in rehabilitation.”
5. In a statement to the media on August 16, Chief Minister Mehdi Shah of GB said that the situation in GB was worsening due to a breakdown of road network and civic facilities in the region. “It is beyond the capacity of the Gilgit-Baltistan government to cope with the situation.” He said that he had requested the Federal Government to provide Rs10 billion for the rehabilitation and compensation of the affected people. According to him, the area had been cut off from the rest of the country for the last one month as the Karakoram Highway, which was the lifeline for the region, was totally damaged. Work for its restoration has been started but it will take a considerable time to restore traffic. Fuel and essential commodities had been running out of stock in the region and the Government was supplying it through the Kaghan-Naran road.
6.The desperate SOS messages from the people and nationalist elements in GB were not noticed in New Delhi. The Government of India did not refer to the plight of the people of GB while announcing its offer of the first instalment of assistance amounting to US $ five million for flood relief in Pakistan. Nor has it made a reference to the plight of the people of GB, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkwa while making its offer of the second instalment of US $ 20 million on August 31. It did not even issue a statement expressing its sympathy and solidarity with the people of GB. During his visit to the flood-affected areas in Ladakh, Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh could have made a statement saying that his heart went out to the people of GB, many of whom are related to people in our Kargil area. Such thoughts never occur to him.
7. We were lethargic, negligent and insensitive in our response. Look at what the Chinese did. They mobilized their disaster relief machinery in Xinjiang and Sichuan. They set up a special facility in the Kashgar area of Xinjiang to rush to the aid of the affected people in Baltistan. They brought in the Chinese Red Cross to oversee the flow of assistance. Relief material in the form of food articles, water purification plants, mineral water bottles and medicines were rushed across to Baltistan. The engineers of the PLA were mobilized and sent into GB to repair the damages caused to the KKH and other roads and to restore electricity which totally failed in the entire GB region.
8 Admitted that we could not have done all this even if we had wanted to. Pakistan permitted the Chinese to do this and was happy to hand over the responsibility for disaster relief in GB to the Chinese. There was panic in Islamabad that taking advantage of the collapse of the administration in GB, India might make a humanitarian intervention of its own on the ground that GB is Indian territory. It urged the Chinese to do a humanitarian intervention in GB. They were happy to do it. We missed an opportunity to make a humanitarian intervention of our own. We did not even open our mouth on the plight of the people of GB.Can we blame Beijing if the people of the area start looking up to China?
9. This may also be read as my comments on the recent article in the “New York Times” by Selig Harrison on Pakistan handing over de facto control of parts of GB to the Chinese.
( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )