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The State vs The Activist

By Tanveer Ahmed

15 April, 2010

A little over a month ago on the 4th of March, Shafqat Ali Inqalabi
filed a petition in Pakistan’s apex court questioning the legitimacy
of the State Executive’s “Empowerment” and “Self-Governance” Order for
Gilgit-Baltistan (formerly referred to as “Northern Areas”), on
September the 9th last year.

Hailing from Panial in district Ghizar, Mr. Inqalabi is a civil
engineer by profession and a passionate activist for the people of his
homeland “Balawaristan” by conviction. Shafqat ‘walks the walk’ just
as well as he ‘talks the talk’. It was only at the beginning of this
year that he obtained a construction contract. In the spirit of a
genuine activist, as soon as he received payment for the work done:
his instincts immediately directed him to use whatever civil recourse
he could adopt to challenge Pakistan’s “illegal” hegemony and
oft-repeated unilateral tactic, of depriving the people of the
erstwhile and possible future State of Jammu and Kashmir’s
northern-most territory, of meaningful public representation.

Hence the petition.

This initiative has not been digested well by Pakistan’s clandestine
agencies. It matters little that Mr. Inqalabi has invoked his basic
right under Article 184(3) of Pakistan’s constitution, which relates
to the enforcement of fundamental rights. It probably matters even
less that the executive order otherwise referred to as a “package”
encroaches upon the domain of independence of people of that area,
indicating a brazen paternalistic attitude on the part of Pakistan’s
executive organ of the State.

Consistent with this tradition, Pakistan’s ISI (Inter-Services
Intelligence) and IB (Intelligence Bureau) have constantly hounded
Shafqat Ali Inqalabi - directly and indirectly - over the phone, since
the petition. Their objective has been to intimidate him into
withdrawing his case from the Supreme Court. This prompted Shafqat to
hold an urgent impromptu press conference in Muzaffarabad
(Pakistani-administered Kashmir) on the 26th of March, to air his
concerns with the media. It so transpired that he received a phone
call from one of these clandestine agencies in the midst of the press
conference. Being a man who has developed a knack of thinking on his
feet, Mr. Inqalabi immediately put the phone on loudspeaker mode so
that the media could sample a taste of the harassment he was

He is hereby making an appeal to the international community to stand
up for the values that they hold so dear, none more so than the
sanctity of life. Shafqat is appealing for empathy from those members
of the human race who understand the importance of freedom of
expression, conscience, association and destiny. That no community
should be pulverised into subordinating themselves to the narrow,
regressive and selfish interest of another: whether by carrot or

It may be appropriate at this juncture, to attempt a brief
geo-strategic and historical narrative behind the motivation of a sole
activist daring to take a state head on. Irrespective of nomenclature,
be it it’s traditional name of Bolor, the northern province of the
pre-1947 Dogra State of Jammu and Kashmir, the Northern Areas of
Pakistan, Balawaristan (one name amongst various others that signify
the possible option of being totally independent from Kashmir as well
as from Pakistan and India) or the package-induced Gilgit-Baltistan.
This region, upon focus and careful study could be considered amongst
the most strategic of regions in the world. Not only does it sit
between four nuclear powers viz. India, Pakistan, Russia and China; it
is home to Asia’s highest mountain ranges namely the Himalayas, Hindu
Kush and the Karakoram. Furthermore, after the polar regions, it has
the largest reservoirs of fresh water in the world. It’s stupendous
quantity of glaciers melt and feed into the numerous rivers which
dance down south via Indian and Pakistani-administered Kashmir to give
life and fertility to the thirsty plains of Indian and Pakistani
Punjab. It possesses a frightfully large amount of untapped resources
of uranium, minerals, stones and metal: much sought after by the
protagonists of progress in the modern age.

The British empire considered part of it a crucial buffer zone to
check Russian encroachment in the region, hence their lease agreement
with the Dogras in 1935. This sixty-year lease agreement was
effectively nullified by partition of the Indian Sub-continent in
mid-August 1947. It reverted back to Dogra rule until a local uprising
on the 1st of November of the same year ousted the Dogra’s
representative Brigadier Ghansara Singh. By the 16th of November,
Pakistan had cajoled and later coerced local liberators into the ‘can
of worms’ that emerged as the ‘Kashmir issue’. Hereafter, began a
series of vague manoeuvres to uphold Pakistan’s legitimacy of presence
(sic) on the territory in international fora: combined with guile and
suppression of the people of this hapless region. Consequently,
approximately 1.8 million people scattered over a wide expanse of
72,496 km² are in constitutional limbo, existing as an unrepresented
nation amongst the comity of nations for reasons insurmountable to

An effective activist is a well-informed one. Shafqat Ali Inqalabi is
not only a diligent student of history, he has painstakingly and
pro-actively highlighted the plight of his people, as and whenever the
opportunity arose. The pinnacle of his efforts thus far is probably
the impression that he made on Baroness Emma Nicholson prior to her EU
Kashmir Report in 2007: overshadowing and possibly forestalling any
impression that Pakistan’s military dictator at the time, Parvez
Musharraf could have made on her vis a vis his “out of the box”
thinking on Kashmir. On the 25th of April 2007, the European
Parliament’s Final Report on Kashmir stated, “Gilgit Baltistan enjoys
no status or even the semblance of democratic representation…The
Northern Area Council set up some time ago, with the boast that it is
functioning like a ‘Provincial Assembly’ screens, in reality, a total
absence of constitutional identity or civil rights”.

To many a conscientious resident of this region, a set of themes have
characterised Pakistan’s control over them. Those most notable that
spring to mind are as follows:

1) Genuine representatives have always been marginalised by the
Pakistani establishment in favour of servile yes men.

2) All agreements or discussions on their political framework and
destiny have never consulted or included any individual from the
region, let alone taken public will into account i.e The Karachi
Agreement of 28th April 1949, UNCIP Resolutions, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s
directly elected council in 1974, the Legal Framework Order (LFO) of
1994, Musharraf’s re-hashing of the latter in 2007 or the currently in
focus ‘package’ of 2009.

3) Periodic uprisings and nationalist sentiment have been ruthlessly
quashed by the non-local military cum civilian bureaucratic rule, most
notably at the beginning of 1971. At times, they have fomented
sectarian strife to deflect people from real issues, Gilgit 1988 is a
case in point.

4) All three organs of governance remain firmly in Pakistan’s control
despite the country’s Supreme Court judgement of 1999 (SCMR 1379)
which envisaged an independent judiciary and right to self-rule for
the people of the region.

5) Constant lies and misrepresentation by Pakistan, for example it’s
contention that the “Northern Areas” were not a part of the State of
Jammu and Kashmir pre-1947. A fabrication cited in a debate by their
Ambassador in Belgium at the European Parliament in 2007.

6) Pakistan has levied and collected taxes without legal justification
and accountability. In return, there is no university, medical,
engineering or other technical college in the region.

7) Members of Pakistan’s armed forces including ISI, IB and MI have
been exempt from prosecution for alleged human rights violations.

8) Pakistan’s executive in the shape of Ministry of Kashmir Affairs
and Northern Areas (KANA) in Islamabad has in the past and still
superimposes all ostensible governance in the region. The local
Assembly does not possess the right to legislate on it’s natural
resources, including water and minerals.

In light of the above, bold and savvy activists armed with the tools
of modern communication technology can - it may be argued - commit
themselves to correcting the wrongs of history. Striving for a
rules-based system created in consultation with the collective will of
the people and brought about through peaceful mobilisation of the
masses, is no longer a pipe dream. It’s a foreseeable reality
increasingly made foreseeable by the interaction of society, politics
and technology.

If the State wins this duel, it could mean victory for an expansionist
agenda. It could prolong the suppression of freedom of movement and
free market trade. Many suspect that over time it could cement a
change in the legal and constitutional status of the region,
de-linking it from the disputed region of Kashmir and solidifying it
as a fifth province of Pakistan. A country that has yet to give
proportionate due rights and autonomy to the existing four provinces
in it’s Islamic republic. Hence, Mr. Inqalabi’s plea to Pakistan’s
Supreme Court to declare the “Empowerment” and “Self-Governance” Order
for Gilgit-Baltistan of September 2009 as ultra vires (Latin for
‘beyond one’s legal power or authority) and to at the very least give
Gilgit-Baltistan (Balawaristan) an AJK (Azad Jammu and Kashmir) like
constitution, till a final decision on the territory was arrived at.

Shafqat Ali Inqalabi has most of the requisite tools for change in his
repertoire but his life is in grave danger, a fair duel this most
certainly is not. Pakistan’s archaic structure of governance - propped
up by it’s ‘spooks’ - has some way to go before it understands the
futility of drowning genuine public aspirations, armed by modern means
of communication.

Meanwhile, others of his region in particular and the global audience
in general should express solidarity with his just cause. It’s a cause
that those of us who enjoy living in progressive democracies should
understand. That there were people like Shafqat in history who made it
happen for you. Help him and others in the region make it happen here

The writer is a journalist, consultant and activist
[email protected]