The reasons why Pakistan released Baba Jan

 Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan often tweeted pictures of landscapes of Hunza. He also said that Hunza is his favorite place. The beauty of Hunza is incomparable. 

Hunza Valley is enticing to any nature lover. Not just Pakistan — Hunza is one of the most eye-catching areas in South Asia.


In the far north of Pakistan, Hunza is China's Xinjiang on one side and Afghanistan on the other. It was a princely state during the British rule. The last king (‘Mir’) Safdar Khan moved to China when the British occupied Hunza. 




According to that source, China also had a claim on this hill town for a long time. The Hunza rulers are said to be descendants of Alexander's troops.

Hunza was undecided for three months during the partition of India. The last time it joined Pakistan was in November 1947. Pakistan later annexed it with Gilgit-Baltistan. Gilgit-Baltistan was once part of Jammu and Kashmir.

 The history of Hunza is similar to the way in which various marginal areas of colonial-North-South Asia are being handed over to 2-3 'states'.

Like Imran, Hunza's beauty is a source of pride for Pakistan. Hunza's tragedy is also hidden behind this pride. Baba jan is the political symbol of that sorrow. The local environmental activist was released two weeks after serving nearly 10 years in prison. 

Baba Jan's imprisonment and release is a chapter in the environmental struggle in the marginal areas of South Asia, which is demanding more attention.

Hunza is a unique tourist destination with its snow-capped peaks, colorful flowers, huge lakes, beautifully preserved archeological sites and hospitable people. There is also enough infrastructure to serve the people who come to visit.

 Imran Khan's tweet is an indirect call of that trade. One of his tweets about Hunza shared 12 thousand times. Thousands of likes on it. Many of them would like to go to Hunza or go often. The beautiful marginal areas of South Asia are now the hub of the expansion of the 'national' tourism business.

Hunza people have no objection to tourism. But what is the remedy for the danger of environmental catastrophe caused by trade and climate change? 

The nature of the hills is changing radically due to the change in the pace of climate. This kind of nature wants extra protection now. Tourists are not supposed to be interested in that. Not even investors. But the locals have to stay here. 

They have no choice but to protect this nature. Baba Jan and his people were saying exactly these words. But they lost a decade of life. They are currently the longest serving political prisoners in Pakistan.

When environmentalists are 'terrorists'


Baba Jan and his teammates were released from jail on November 27. His supporters called him "Che Guevara of Gilgit-Baltistan". However, the captivity and release of Baba Jan received little attention in the South Asian media.

 Such incidents are not only happened in case of the Hunza people - they are true for many parts of the subcontinent.

Baba Jan has been in jail since 2011. In January of the previous year, a large landslide occurred in Attabad, Hunza. Over the past few decades, Hunza has become a natural disaster prone area. Earthquakes, avalanches, frozen water are all regular problems. 

Attabad Lake is now a major tourist attraction. But this lake was created when the whole village was submerged in the landslide. Dozens of people died in the disaster. The course of the Hunza River is blocked. The furnace dries up completely.

 Thousands of people from several hill villages became environmental refugees in the incident. The government had a support program after the incident. But not enough. 

They were not as active in dealing with the effects of climate change on the environment as they were marketing the beauty of the Hunza's environment.

Baba Jan's protest started from here. They wanted compensation for the environmental refugees and their rehabilitation. They also object to the commercialization of Hunza. The protesters were shot dead in August 2011. Two people died in it.

 As a result, the Hunza people later set fire to some government installations. The case is. Many defendants, including Baba Jan, were thrown in jail. In 2014, 11 people were sentenced to life imprisonment by a terrorism court.

 In other words, the government identifies the organizers of the movement in the interest of the disaster victims as 'terrorists'. They were also tortured in the name of interrogation during their captivity. 

Pakistan's main political parties have not spoken out against the state crackdown, as the detained protesters are affiliated with the progressive local Awami Workers Party.

This is how Islamabad's political distance with the Hunza people increases. Imran's tweet does not report that distance.

 However, many internationally renowned scholars and human rights activists, from Noam Chomsky to Tariq Ali, have long called on Pakistan to release Hunza's environmental activists. The movement is also going on in Hunja. As a result, Baba Jan was released on November 26.

Hunza's story is a great example of how the struggle to protect the environment and natural resources became political in the end. The experience of the "Narmada Bachao movement" in Gujarat or the movement to "Protect the Sundarbans" in Bangladesh may have been like that.

Pakistan does not want to repeat the mistake


Although it is a remote marginal area, Hunza has some strange features. They are Ismaili Shia and have a literacy rate of 97%. There are many women among the economic entrepreneurs. 

Women also participate in procession and meeting to protect nature and environment. They move across the valley in a fearless manner.

All this is a reminder of a progressive society in the midst of beautiful nature. That is why the arrest of Baba Jan has only given extra strength to the individual consciousness of Hunza.

 That force has finally forced Islamabad's policymakers to release political prisoners. Earlier this year, an unprecedented 14-day sit-in strike was held in Hunza demanding the release of prisoners. 

The Pakistani government wisely did not want to let the anger grow. Today's policy makers may not want to make mistakes like Bangladesh or Balochistan.

But Hunza and Gilgit have a long history of deprivation. Pakistan is overwhelmed with emotion when it comes to the beauty of the region.

However, this area was not represented in the policy making of the country for a long time. The development and deprivation of the people of Hunza has been handled to some extent by the various social service works of the Aga Khan Foundation. 

Whether it is a province or an autonomous region of Pakistan has not been fully decided in the last seven decades. Although there was a local provincial assembly here for 11 years, its administrative powers were very limited. 

Only last November, the Imran government said they were going to give Gilgit-Baltistan the status of a province. That could again be a major blow to the people of Kashmir.

If Pakistan declares this part of Kashmir as its own province, then India also gets additional justification to show the rest of its control as its own land. 

If India and Pakistan can take control of Kashmir in this way, then Pakistan's solidarity with the Kashmiris' referendum or independence movement has no moral force. 

As a result, despite the declaration of the province for the time being, the issue of Gilgit-Baltistan's independence and its historical status remains largely undecided. Local nationalism can be revived at any time and on any occasion. 





The people of Hunza hinted at that struggle to free Baba Jan and his companions. The movement for the rehabilitation of those affected by nature, environment and disasters was going on but the politics of local individualism was sprouting inside it. 

The Pakistani rulers should understand this underlying meaning and consider this people as part of themselves.

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