January 4, 2011

Gojal & Liu Xiaobo — China encroaching on Pakistani land ?

By Habib R. Sulemani

JANUARY 4, 2010 was a black day for the people of my native Gojal. On this day a devastating landslide blocked the Hunza River and Karakoram Highway (KKH) near Attabad village, killing about 20 people. Since then Gojal has become a cutoff region of the country. The Pakistan Army's Frontier Works Organization (FWO) has failed to reopen the international road and release water from the lake, which has turned into a frozen dam.

With the arrival of winter the boat service has come to a halt. Now, when the temperature is as low as -20 °C, the stranded people are forced to travel on the frozen dam risking their lives. Despite repeated appeals to the federal government, locals say, on the ground nothing has changed. Thus the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are observing a "black day" today. Instead of allowing the people to release their frustration through peaceful protests, the intellectually bankrupt administration has imposed ban on protest processions. Such undemocratic actions often give birth to violence.

Currently, my parents are on the other side of the 14-km long frozen dam (Hunza in crises). It has submerged villages making a large number of poor farmers homeless. Primarily, the Pakistan’s government and establishment both ignored the natural calamity. Their competing and lustful eyes were set on other lucrative businesses! Our ruling class makes money out of wars, terrorist attacks and natural disasters. So the authorities didn't bother about woeful plight of Gojal, also known as Upper Hunza. It's the last tehsil, administrative division, of the country situated on the borders of China and Afghanistan.

As our mainstream media has become a typical South Asian "dancing girl" in the court of the almighty establishment—so it also kept mum about the suffering of the 25,000 Wakhi, Brushaski and Dumaki-speaking people of Gojal. One day in the second week of May, a section of the media gave the news of Army Chief Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's visit of the affected area. Next day almost all media outlets heralded that the sole super power of the country had visited Gojal.

I was surprised by the news that Gen. Kayani had addressed a public gathering in my hometown Gulmit! According to reports, the Army Chief told the people, gathered in haste by the tyrant officials, that the government had not yet paid a penny to the army and more than Rs. 80 million had been spent on the excavation work "People should lower their expectations as there is no money with the government,” he was quoted as saying. 

Then suddenly Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani visited Hunza in the third week of May. As it was expected, he didn’t announce any “real” relief and limited himself to political rhetoric. This annoyed the locals. As usual, the cunning establishment used the media to prove that the democratically elected government was nothing but a humiliating failure.

Satellite image of the Attabad lake.—MensCrunch.Com

The Army Chief and Prime Minister's visits threw the affected people in the depths of despair. The frustration of the youth reached its peak. Ultimately, they started staging protests not only in Hunza and Gilgit but also in other cities including Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. The slogans against a General – who was heading the National Disaster Management Authority – made the establishment angry and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) came into action! The protesters were declared anti-Pakistan. And the spies gave an impression that the people had announced to join China! Thus, on pressure from the ISI, a shameless resolution was moved to the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly, seeking punishment for the homeless "traitors" of the affected area. 

Anyhow, it’s exact one year and yet the government is unable to clear the blocked international road. According to Ghulam Amin Beg, noted local blogger, a Chinese engineer said that it was sheer incompetence of the Pakistani authorities. Locals say the government's relief goods for the displaced persons were looted by the officials and their partners in the crime. If the international NGOs were not present in the area, the landslide victims would have suffered much more, eyewitness say. 

Stranded people travel on the frozen dam risking their lives.—Photo Daily Times
Meanwhile, the government of China, which has the only road link with the cutoff region, has now taken the task of providing relief goods to the stranded people of Gojal. I don't know if Pakistan and China, the two traditional neighbor-friends, have made any kind of official agreement in this regard. Anyway, the Chinese know the corrupt officials on this side of the border—so they are distributing the relief goods through local volunteers. This has annoyed the corrupt local administration.

I'm about 800-km away from my hometown—living in solitary-confinement after attempts on my life. I've sought protection and action against the criminals. Nine months have passed but still the so-called democratic regime in Pakistan is silent. On the other hand, the Chinese government has provided me relief goods! I don't know what to say!

No doubt, China is going to be a global phenomenon. The only thing which is damaging its credibility in the world is ban on freedom of expression inside the country. If the Chinese government releases writer and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, and lifts ban from novelist and blogger Han Han, it can win the hearts and minds of the entire world! Cheap goods and aid may not do that what freedom of thought and freedom of expression can do! I'm hopeful the Chinese government will realize it and evolutionary will give way to democracy! That is the only way to be a vibrant part of the global community in the 21st century.

In Islamabad, some people close to the government are doubtful about the activities of China in the region! They’re giving an impression that China is gradually becoming an imperialist power encroaching on foreign territories! They give the impression that the first military dictator, Gen. Ayub Khan, gifted a large area to China in the 1960s, another dictator, Gen. Zia, lost Siachen Glacier to India in the 1980s and now, when Gen. Kayani calls the shots in the country, Gojal, area-wise the largest tehsil of Gilgit-Baltistan region, had literally gone under the administration of China.

I don't know what the fact is? However, publicly there is silence! To talk about socialist China and Islamist Saudi Arabia, one has to be cautious in Pakistan! They're brotherly states no-one can criticize them especially in the media. However, everyone is free to accuse and abuse the democratic United States, rather the establishment encourages this engineered collective social behavior in Pakistan.

Some civil society members are also hinting that through relief packages, global powers are trying to win trust of people in the country. I don't believe in conspiracy theories but if a state is not protecting the life and honor of its citizens – heads of different state organs try to get extension in services or keep power within their families – then others would come to fill the blanks!

A land needs an owner and people seek basic human rights in the globalizing world. A whole year has passed and yet the government is unable to open the KKH. Similarly, 63 years have passed and so far the Constitution of Pakistan is silent about the legal status of Giglit-Baltistan – the 72,000 sq/km region where people have no basic human rights like other areas of the country. The people say they're Pakistani but the ruling class of the country is unwilling to give the people their due right.

My sincere advice to the Pakistani government and establishment is: immediately provide relief to the affected people of Gojal and then, through the Parliament, give Gilgit-Baltistan a Constitutional status either as the Fifth Province or an autonomous status like Azad Kashmir. The over two million people of this strategically important region have sacrificed and suffered too much since 1947, now give them relief (check out: Gilgit-Baltistan – The Orphaned Land of Pakistan).


1- HunzaOnLine - landslide affected Gojal

2- Pamir Times - last year's protest procession  


  1. Shina poet Jan Ali explains the current situation of Gilgit-Baltistan:

    Lo! What they have done to my beloved Gilgit,
    Outsider elements get the peoples’ throat slit,

    By pelting indigenous populace against each other.
    Beware of speaking loudly; the time is spying on you
    O people of Gilgit you never have the power
    To determine the path of your destiny.
    Alas! My beloved Gilgit
    You have been given to alien hands.

  2. Pak-China FriendshipJanuary 21, 2011 at 2:18 AM

    Hu says China not a military threat to any nation

    By MATTHEW PENNINGTON, Associated Press, Jan 20, 2011.

    WASHINGTON – Chinese President Hu Jintao sought to assure U.S. business leaders on Thursday that his country is an economic partner and not a military threat to America or anyone else. But he rejected foreign interference on issues such as Tibet and Taiwan.

    "We will remain committed to the path of peaceful development," Hu told a U.S.-China Business Council luncheon. "We do not engage in an arms race, we are not a military threat to any country. China will never seek to dominate or pursue an expansionist policy."

    Hu said China intended to "develop a socialist democracy and build a socialist country under the rule of law."

    His luncheon comments, the final event on his state visit to Washington, followed closed-door sessions with members of Congress, where he drew criticism for his country's human rights and other policies.