By S. M. Hali

Gilgit–Baltistan (GB), formerly known as the Northern Areas, is part of the unfinished partition plan of the Indian Subcontinent, when the British granted independence to Pakistan and India in 1947. Azad Jammu & Kashmir, Indian-Occupied Kashmir and GB comprise the disputed Kashmir region.  On 29 August 2009, GB was granted self-rule under the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, 2009 by the Government of Pakistan. Under self-rule, the people of GB are empowered to elect their own Legislative Assembly, thus achieving provincial status, without officially becoming a province of Pakistan since its formal integration into Pakistan would prejudice the international obligations for a solution of the Kashmir issue.

GB’s location is strategic, bordering Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to the west, Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor to the north, China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to the east and northeast, Azad Jammu and Kashmir to the southwest, and the Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir to the southeast. Besides it strategic location, its picturesque valleys, serene lakes, verdant plateaus and lofty peaks attract tourists and mountaineering expeditions.

Development for Baltis as the residents of GB are commonly known as has been slow but the advent of the Karakoram Highway in the 1970s linking GB with China has opened up tremendous trade and commerce opportunities for the people of the region. The planned railway with Chinese support will be a marvel of engineering, meandering through the treacherous mountains and valleys and promise enhanced economic activity as well as employment opportunities for the Baltis.

In this milieu, it is not surprising that vested interests want to exploit the simple but hardworking Baltis. The forefathers of the current generation had fought bravely alongside Pakistani mujahedeen for their independence from the Hindu Dogra rule and Indian illegal occupation. Generation after generation, the Baltis  have borne allegiance to Pakistan, proudly hoisted the Pakistani flag on their rooftops and chanted the Pakistani national anthem with patriotic zeal and fervour, defending Pakistan and GB against Indian assaults in the wars that followed the 1947-48 Kashmir War. There isn’t an iota of doubt that the Baltis will opt for Pakistan, whenever the UN sponsored plebiscite is held, to declare their right of self determination.

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Having failed to physically occupy GB, India and a few other detractors have launched a heinous plan to sow the seeds of doubt and secession to exploit minor rivalries and create ethnic and sectarian strife with a view to damage the national interests of Pakistan. The macabre plot of the detractors comprises a vicious propaganda campaign targeting the people of GB to pollute their minds by distorting historical truths through their malicious write ups, articles and seminars organized on foreign soil. The aim is to accord more credibility to their propaganda and also muster foreign support for their selective Psychological Operations (Psy Ops) against Pakistan. The detractors have recruited willing villains to further their odious plot. In this context the conspiratorial role played by one Imtiaz Hussain and Senge H. Sering is significant. Imtiaz Hussain is the self appointed President of GB National Congress and is a Virginia based Satellite Engineer, while Senge H. Sering is President of Washington based Institute of GB Studies, which professes cultural, economic and environmental rights of people of GB but actually conducts venomous propaganda against Pakistan, making efforts to tarnish the image of Pakistan in the eyes of people of GB. The vicious content of their disinformation campaign not only distorts the historical truth about GB and Pakistan, but also embeds separatist notions in the target audience. Interestingly, there is a serious dichotomy in the approach of the propagandists. On the one hand, they advocate the resumption of traffic and trade across LoC (from GB to Ladakh) while on the other they oppose serious development plans of the Government of Pakistan, which will enhance prosperity for the region. They falsely propagate that the construction of dams, expressways, railways and gas pipelines will damage the ecosystem, stressing environmental ramifications, which is the popular tune of conservationists.

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Sering, who is currently based in New Delhi as visiting faculty at the Indian Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, is being reportedly sponsored by RAW to complicate the status of GB in the eyes of the world opinion builders while instilling separatism and feelings of dissent among the loyal Baltis.

There is a dire need for own media to expose the malicious propaganda against Pakistan by informing the Baltis of the misinformation campaign, unearthing the plots against their welfare as well as apprise the world of the machinations against GB.