Balawaristan National Front Conference in Brussels
Addresses Pakistan and China's Role in Occupied Gilgit-Baltistan
May 6, 2011
Balawaristan National Front (BNF) held a seminar titled "A Critical But Unknown Pivot of South Asia Under Threat" at the University Foundation Club, Brussels. Dr. Michael Penders, Environmental Security International L3C, chaired the first session of the conference. Dr. Ngawang Choephel chaired the second session. Mumtaz Khan of ICFPD was the moderator for both sessions on May 5, 2011.
On May 6, Senge Sering of GBNC presided over conference titled "Gilgit-Baltistan Environmental Destruction and Vanishing Indigenous People". Prominent among the speakers were, Prof. David Pentley, Prof. Dr. Hermann Kreutzmann, Dr. Dirk Terwel and Dr. Lakhumal Luhana, Paul Beersmans, Afzal Tahir.
In his inaugural speech, Ngawang Choephel, Chairman of UNPO brought narratives from Xinjiang and Tibet to state that China's interventions in Gilgit-Baltistan will bring the same kind of destruction to flora and fauna, local culture and religious beliefs and demographic structures. He stressed that LOC should open to allow the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and Ladakh to travel to Tibet.
Chairman Abdul Hamid Khan briefed the audience about political and historical and legal background of Balawaristan (Pakistan and China occupied Gilgit Baltistan, Chitral and Shhenaki Kohistan) and the aim and objectives of the Conference. He said that clandestine activities of Chinese and Pakistan forces on the highest mountains of Hunza and other Areas of Gilgit Baltistan has severely upset the balance of nature and may result in serious ecological and environmental disaster in the region. Their practices of exploitation of natural resources of Gilgit Baltistan can further marginalize people economically.
Dr. Michael J. Penders stated that Balawaristan is an internationally disputed area and therefore China does not have a legal or moral right to carry out its mega projects including tunnels and dams in seismic zones without conducting environmental assessments with all stakeholders from the region represented. He told the participants that any developmental policy must be consistent with international and national environmental laws, and must take the local population’s opinion and interests into account. Mr. Penders told the participants that the United States is re-evaluating its relationship with Pakistan on several levels in the coming weeks. This is a critical time to assert rights of indigenous people to sustainable and secure development, as well as the rule of law in disputed territories, including fundamental environmental laws and principles of democratic governance with the powers in the region.
Dr. Dirk Terwel talked about issues of sustainable livelihoods in the Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan where the natives face serious challenge of holding on to their receding land. He stated that receding glaciers are Impacting agricultural activities in the valley and without mitigation; the natives will be forced to leave their homeland. And people of Gilgit Baltistan may experience the same sitaution if government policies failed take sustainable approach. He also mentioned about the raod Chinese Authorities have constructed in Wakhan corridor that goes nowhere which didn't benefit the local population.
Prof. Dr. Hermann Kreutzmann of Institut für Geographische Wissenschaften Fachrichtung Anthropogeographie, Berlin, Germany who has been frequent visitor to the Area for last 34 years stated that Balawaristan has become the focal point of international political intrigue and the prevalent situation including presence of Chinese workers in the region also draw similar attention. He emphasized on a framework where all stakeholders could work together to solve the regional dispute. He expressed his apprehensions about growing influence of Jihadi culture and Saudi and Iranian influence.
Dr. Professor David Petley International Landslide Centre, Department of Geography, Durham University, United Kingdom brought different cases of land sliding and glacial melting to focus and raised the issue that Balawaristan is a very fragile ecosystem and remains a target of regular natural rock shifts and unwarranted interventions could increase the risks and destruction. He also warned about the potential highest earthquake risk Himalayan region has according to the studies carried Himalayan Seismic Hazard Balham 2001. He also warned about more potential landslides and avalanche and flood in Gilgit Baltistan.
Dr. Lakhumal Luhana, a native of Sindh Pakistan based in UK talked about Impact of glacial melting and earthquakes on the land and people of Balawaristan and Sindh as both are recipients of Indus River. He talked about role of dams on destruction to the glaciers and also mentioned about government policies which are impacting right of the natives over their resources. He demanded that State Subject Rule should be reinstated to protect demographic structure of the region. He criticised Pakistan regime of pursuing systematic planned settlement to change demographics in Sindh. He said that most of these immigrants are religious activists who carry the task of damaging secular social fabric.
Senge Hasnan Sering a native of Gilgit -Baltistan and Director of Gilgit Baltistan National Congress (GBNC) based in Washington DC, USA brought attention to the fact that Gilgit-Baltistan is a disputed territory and therefore any economic interventions by Pakistan and China are illegal and violations of the United Nations Resolutions. He reiterated that the China-Pakistan provisional border agreement of 1963, which demarcated the limits of Xinjiang and Gilgit-Baltistan, disallows sovereignty to Pakistan in Gilgit-Baltistan, which reinforces the legal view that Pakistan must stop construction of dams, tunnels and mineral exploration in the region. He stated that independent security experts and agencies have confirmed presence of Chinese troops in Gilgit-Baltistan and the issue is a matter of concern for the locals as China is directly responsible in initiating the Great Game in the region. The situation compels that the natives should unify and oppose presence of China's and Pakistan's military presence. He further lamented that the locals are facing sedition charges for opposing illegal exploitation of resources since it fails to provide the natives adequate monetary benefits. In the end, Senge demanded freedom of expression and political activity for the natives, withdrawal of sedition charges and release of political and religious activists from jails.
In the second session, Andrew Swan of UNPO talked about possible coordination and sharing of information, expertise with rights groups to promote the cause of natives in the occupied lands. During his speech, Dr. Mike Penders also emphasized raising awareness among the international community to protect the rights of the local people of Balawaristan.
Afzal Tahir Chairman Kashmir International Front (KIF) based in London talked about presence of troops in Pakistan controlled Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan and how the troops are involved in human rights violations. He talked about equal rights to all ethnic and religious communities if the people of J&K have to reconcile on a single platform. He talked about opening of LOC between Gilgit-Baltistan and Ladakh to bring peace there. He said that KIF recognized struggle of BNF and the right of people of Gilgit Baltistan.
Paul Beersmans Belgian Association for Solidarity with Jammu And Kashmir mentioned about his visits to both sides of J&K and how natives struggle for more empowerment. He said that regimes need to pay attention to educational needs of the communities. He said that terrorism and militancy is not the way to solve political issues and called for various options on Kashmir issue to satisfy demands of the stakeholders. He emphasised the greater role of SAARC in the resolution of conflict and economic progress in South Asia. He criticised intentions of Pakistan's investment in Arms and Army. He advocated more than two options on the resolution of conflict.
Mumtaz Khan Executive Director, International Centre for Peace and Democracy based in Canada stated that the regimes have failed to provide for their own people yet they waste money on military adventurism in India and Afghanistan. India has demanded opening LOC but Pakistan would not honour the CBMs on Gilgit-Baltistan. China has no interest in bringing peace in the region and creates hurdles in normalization of Indo-Pak relations. Muslim regimes deny the right of their own citizens yet they waste no time in criticising non-Muslim countries about situation of their Muslim minorities. He said that it is Pakistan which creates mistrust between the people of Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. He also criticised the military establishment for supporting banned militant organizations and giving refuge to Osama bin Laden in the country and called the strategic tools of the state.
In the end, Chairman of Balawaristan National Front thanked the audience and the speakers and expressed the desire to see his homeland gaining freedom from the clutches of the occupiers. The participants then discussed various points to format the resolution which accompanies the press release.
Whereas UN resolution UNCIP adopted on 13 August 1948 states that:
l) As the presence of troops of Pakistan in the territory of the State of Jammu and Kashmir constitutes a material change in the situation since it was represented by the Government of Pakistan before the Security Council, the Government of Pakistan agrees to withdraw its troops from that State.
2) The Government of Pakistan will use its best endeavor to secure the withdrawal from the State of Jammu and Kashmir of tribesmen and Pakistan nationals not normally resident therein who have entered the State for the purpose of fighting.
3) Pending a final solution the territory evacuated by the Pakistan troops will be administered by the local authorities under the surveillance of the Commission.
The conference resolved that the line of control that separates Gilgit-Baltistan, Ladakh and Kashmir Valley should be opened to enable trade and tourism, as denial of travel violates universal declaration on human rights and UNCIP resolutions. The steps will enable thousands of individuals belonging to divided families as well as enhance economic and cultural development.
The conference resolved further that the land and resources of Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan should not be used for promoting extremism, militancy and terrorism. This way, a diverse and balanced secular society could evolve ensuring socio-economic and political rights to all of its inhabitants irrespective of colour, creed, gender and faith.
Abdul Hamid Khan
Balawaristan National Front (BNF)
Head Office: Majini Mahla, Gilgit, Balawaristan (Pakistan & China Occupied Gilgit Baltistan)
Ph: 0032 22311750