By Sheikh Manzoor
A leading political activist of Gilgit-Baltistan has accused Pakistan of allowing China to spread its influence and activities in the area.
Gilgit-Baltistan is part of the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Senge Hasnan Sering, who is the president of the Washington-based Institute for Gilgit-Baltistan, said during an informal chat with journalists while on a visit here that Chinese activities had considerably increased in the region and at present there were more than 2,000 Chinese operating in the area.
“We are under silent invasion from China,” Hasnan Sering said.
Their strength was likely to increase in the days to come, he said, as China and Pakistan had recently signed contracts worth billions of dollars which include setting up of a dry port in Gilgit-Baltistan and development of economic zones.
Hasnan Sering also said that extremist and terror groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba and anti-Shia groups were operating in the area to create unrest and escalate sectarian violence.
He said that the demography of Gilgit and Baltistan was being changed by the Pakistan government. Since the area had come under the direct control of the federal government of Pakistan, over 300,000 Pakistanis, mainly Punjabis, have settled in the region.
This, he said, was aimed at changing the demography of the area which was Shia-dominated, adding that sectarian violence had increased there in the past few years.
Islamabad, through an ordinance in 2009, brought Gilgit-Baltistan directly under the control of the federal government. It has been made into a province and elections are held for its assembly.
Hasnan Sering blasted the Pakistan government for being “ruthless on activists of Balwaristan movement,” who demand independence for the region. The region is strategically located because of the Karakoram highway that links China with Gwadar Port on the Arabian Sea.
Referring to the coming assembly elections to the Gilgit-Baltistan assembly, he described these as “mere farce”.
“Their is no political sanctity to such elections as elected representatives have very little role to play in the affairs of the region. It is being run by the Pakistan establishment,” the activist said.
Recently, the local Jirga banned women from participating in elections. However, it has been condemned by parties like the Muslim League and Pakistan People’s Party.
Another shocking development, he said, is that members of terror groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have been allowed to contest the elections independently, “which shows the flaws in the system.”
At least 83 candidates are in the fray for 35 assembly seats and more than six lakh voters are entitled to exercise their franchise.
Hasnan Sering further said that he has received reports that many activists of Balwaristan National Front have decided to participate in the elections. (IANS)