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Home > News > Report

Unwelcome man from no man's land

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | August 15, 2007 04:06 IST

On the midnight of August 11, just four days before India and Pakistan started celebrations for 60 years of independence Shafqat Ali Inqalabi, 26, was pleading with a junior police officer in New Delhi's Pahar Ganj, "Thanedar, please listen to me. I don't consider myself a Pakistani. I am neither Kashmiri nor an enemy of India."

Shafqat has a Pakistani passport and found that because of the high decibel Independence Day celebrations in New Delhi no hotel was ready to rent a room to a Pakistani.

Any ordinary Pakistani in standard or sub-standard hotels needs police clearance. Shafqat was unaware of this.

He went to the police station and pleaded his case but in vain. While talking to he said, "I told the police I am a friend of India but he would just not believe me."

His passport says he is from Bubur village of Punial tehsil in district Ghizer of northern areas.

This area falls into Gilgit-Baltistan, which is attached to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

Shafqat paid a price for what 60 years of separation have wrought.

Before 1947, Jammu and Kashmir [Images] comprised of, apart from the parts controlled by India and Pakistan respectively -- the northern areas, which are also known as Gilgit-Balitstan, and the piece of land that was gifted in 1963 by Pakistan to China.

But a police officer in Pahar Ganj would know little of such a complicated history. Shafqat had arrived in New Delhi via Amritsar [Images] and he claims that his bag was stolen near Panipat. He lost his clothes and $650.

Shafqat had visited India in May 2006 to attend a seminar. But that did not convince any hotel owners.

"Pakistan" is a sacrilegious word when you have a more than 20,000-strong trained police force around Red Fort [Images], New and Old Delhi police stations and on Vijay path keeping vigil against terror.

At around 1 am Shafqat went to Chandni Chawk. Hotel owners were shown the invitation from no less than Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, government funded prestigious think-tank.

Shafqat has written a chapter on economic exploitation of Gilgit-Baltistan in the book Pakistan-occupied Kashmir: The Untold Story edited by Virendra gupta and Alok Bansal. The book launch was sleted to be held on August 13 by J&K governor Lieutenant General S K Sinha.

Shafqat is a communist and a former spokesman of Balwaristan National front.

He told a 'Hindu' police man that he is actually an atheist. But, he was not impressed.

Shafqat managed to make a call to his host. Only after his Indian host could talk with the policeman in Pahar Ganj, did he get permission to check into Hotel Crown. The hotel owner called the police to reconfirm before allotting the room.

He was warned by police to "keep watch on me, and check my belongings,' says Shafqat. He complains that he had never stayed in such a dirty room in his life. He was charged Rs 500 per night. "I come from an area which is more beautiful than Srinagar [Images]!"

Shafqat says, "Indian police is worse than Pakistani police. Pakistani police ill-treats poor people. It takes bribes from rich people but the police is respectful to outsiders. If a non-Pakistani goes to a police officer he will offer him a chair and tea. But here when I say I am from Pakistan they refuse to talk, they suspect terrorist links and didn't even offer me a chair."

He said, "Whenever any leader of Hurriyat Conference from Indian Kashmir arrives in Pakistan people shower them with love and respect because they are fighting for independence and taking on the Indian state. Here we are fighting Pakistan army and government but we are not even heard."

Luckily Shafqat whose mother tongue is Shina, manages to speak Urdu, Hindi and English.

"In 1947, one mass of land of around 70,000 square km was taken out from India. It is now a forgotten chapter of history for politicians and people of India", Shafqat complains.

He says Sindhu river, Nanga Parbat, K2 peaks, which India has ignored all these years, are the pride of his land.

It is not culturally similar to Jammu and Kashmir but when Kashmir was divided into Gilgit and Baltistan, which spreads beyond Kargil and Leh, also known as Federally Administered Northern Areas, got cut off from India forever.

It is astonishing that although Pakistan rules the area but no accession treaty was signed by Gilgit and Baltistan with Pakistan in 1947.

Like Kashmiris, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are also fighting for independence.

One section of its leaders is seeking help from India.

Gilgit-Baltistan have borders with Afghanistan, China, Tajikistan and India. Its strategic importance is enormous. Pakistan is keeping tight grip on the region.

Gilgit-Baltistan's doesn't have democracy. Islamabad rules through Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs.

The region's administrative body of 30 members, called Northern Areas Legislative Council is almost without powers. The federal minister and the chief executive, appointed by the Pakistan government from among members of the National Assembly, enjoys the status of a king of the territory.

From the Indian point of view, all of Jammu and Kashmir is still a part of India.

According to 1994 resolution unanimously passed by Indian parliament J&K as existed before 1947 is "integral part of India".

Shafqat says, "After 60 years its high time for India to stop claiming my motherland. Also, India should have courage to come out in open to help one of the poorest regions of South Asia."