by Tahir Bhat
SRINAGAR: Days after thousands of people came out on the roads in Hunza’s Aliabad town in Gilgit Baltistan, there was a symbolic demonstration in Kargil, on this side of the Line of Control (LoC), as well. These protests seek the freedom of Baba Jan and his three colleagues from jail.
Jan is jailed at Gahkuch since 2011 when he was arrested along with many others and was convicted to life imprisonment for rioting. Now almost all, excepting Jan and two others are behind bars.
A leftist political worker, Baba Jan’s arrest was the outcome of a natural disaster rather than his politics. In January 2010, a vast mountain range on one of the banks of Hunza River trembled and collapsed into the river. The landslides blocked the river, swept away many villages and seriously damaged almost 24 km of Karakorum Highway, the flagship communication link between Pakistan and China. Most of the collapsed road and villages were submerged into a 21-km long lake, named after the town that it devoured, now a busy tourist destination.
Soon, Baba busied himself with organising the 457 landslide-impacted population, according to newspaper Dawn, as a resulted of which they were compensated barring 25. It was the desperation of these 25 families that led a protest on August 11, 2011, when the affected population blocked the Karakorum Highway at a time when the GB chief executive was to pass through. Police opened fire, killed a young man, Afzal Beig 22. As his father Sherullah Beig jumped to retrieve his body, he was also shot dead. This triggered rioting in which various government properties were set afire and eventually, Baba Jan and his colleagues were held responsible.
The protests intensified last week in Hunza because GB is slated to go for polls in November and the people are desperate to see Baba Jan represent them. Jan finished the runner in the last polls that he contested from jail. Courts did not permit him a contest the next time.
Residents insist that while Jan was the key factor fording authorities to help the people affected by the natural disaster, he became the victim of the local politics and was arrested. Since his arrest, the lake that was formed as a result of the disaster is a roaring tourist spot. The eruption of the protests came at a time when the elections are around the corner. Bab Jan belongs to the Awami Workers Party that has a sizable influence in the area.
Is in interesting to mention here that Gojal Valley where the unrest erupted is a strategic location. The Karakorum Highway passes through the belt and was impacted by the landslides. In order to make the highway operational, the Chinese had to create five tunnels covering around 24 km.