By Safiullah Baig
Diamer District is once again in the limelight for not a good reason but for a despicable act of burning a girl’s school in Darel by some extremist elements. Some mainstream and social media activists as usual were quick enough to point towards Diamer as bastion of extremism in Gilgit-Baltistan. This has made things murkier and will not allow concerned citizens to understand and analyse the larger issues of state security policies, new great game, colonization and hegemony of capitalism.
Zooming on the issue from sectarian lens and stereotyping geography for an act of arson will further deepen sectarian fault lines in the region where identity, culture and cancel politics seems in fashion.
To understand the complexity of the GB’s issue we need to delve deep into the history of colonization, subjugation, and neoliberal extractive development and pillage of resources in GB.
History of South and Central Asia, particularly of Gilgit-Baltistan is riddled with attempts of colonization by global as well as regional powers cultivating men and groups from different regions based on their mutual interests. Nexus between local power cliques and rulers and neighbouring powers has today assumed different scale. In the post-1947 era, particularly after 1979, both modernity and religion were used to foment strong loyalties for ruling ideologies among group of populations in different parts of Gilgit-Baltistan and elsewhere in the world.
Ruling elite has, with the full support of US imperialism, patronized and nurtured not one but many groups and undemocratic institutions in GB having apparently different ideologies to protect their economic and political stakes and strategic interest of US in the region.
GB’s strategic location has made it a key geography in struggles for and against capitalism and world hegemony since late 1860s when Leitner also known Abdur Rasheed Sayyah, principle of Government College Lahore and one of the founders of Punjab University, was sent to the area to collect information in order to shape British Empire’s strategic planning. His visit was planned soon after the end of Opium Wars against China.
Imagine, how western capitalism had made various interventions and investments in this region through intelligence missions, expeditions, explorations, delegations, residencies, projects, awards including establishment of Gilgit Scouts and the 17-day Independent GB.
Threatened by China becoming world’s economic power and Russia together with Central Asian countries building alliances with China, US withdrew hurriedly from Afghanistan handing it over to Taliban in order to reset its policy on China and Russia and triggered war in Ukraine by pumping billions of dollars and weapon.
GB not too far away from Central Asian countries and bordering Wakhan Corridor and China holds premium value in this new great game US might fight for the last time as imperialist empire.
Once fully captured and controlled, through business corporations, NGOs selling market economy in the form of welfarist model, religious extremist outfits protecting and promoting sectarian social and cultural spaces and state institutions, GB will serve as launching pad to destabilize Chinese western border by encircling and making it bleed.
Under this strategy powerful bureaucracy is running the affairs of GB in colonial style by totally disenfranchising people, denying local government, privatizing education, health, municipal services and now electricity, force capturing of resources, selling of assets, exploiting and destroying ecology and promoting uneven development within districts.
Progressive forces of GB and youth must take emerging regional situation into account and unite people on a minimum common agenda, expose mainstream PPP, PML-N, PTI and other ruling class parties, their collaboration with both Pakistan’s ruling elite and US imperialism, forge alliances with other resistance forces of peripheries and build a regional movement based on people’s rights, climate justices and equal opportunities for development.
It is also important to keep in mind that identifying and associating entire regions with certain ideology is a counterproductive notion for building a peaceful mass movement against colonization of GB and to struggle for autonomous self-rule.
Safiullah Baig is a cultural development expert and social activist