close
Advertisement
Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!
 
November 30, 2020

Freedom for Baba Jan

Editorial

 
November 30, 2020

After almost 10 years in prison in his hometown in Gilgit-Baltistan, the country's first climate change activist, Baba Jan and another prisoner Iftikhar Karbalai held alongside him, have finally been released and have reached their homes in Hunza. A well-known and popular political figure in the Hunza region, Baba Jan was jailed for participating in protests seeking compensation for the affectees of the Attabad Lake disaster, in which a climate-change precipitated landslide wiped out hundreds of villages in Gilgit-Baltistan. Since 2011, Baba Jan had been serving a sentence for life imprisonment, after having been tried and convicted by an Anti-Terrorism Court in the aftermath of protests in Hunza against the killing of two unarmed civilians. In 2015, Baba Jan’s work captured national attention, as he contested national elections from his jail cell, in a powerful campaign that drew thousands of votes from young and old in the Hunza valley. Loved by many in the valley as the ‘Che of Hunza,’ Baba Jan is a popular political leader from Pakistan’s hinterlands whose popularity has only increased since his conviction.

In jail, Baba Jan became an advocate for prisoners organising them, helping them understand the idea of the damage global warming could do. He also spoke to them about the dangers of sectarian rift and the need to unite Shias and Sunnis under one umbrella. Over the years, the country's progressive voices have continued to speak up for Baba Jan, as well as about the larger question of how political leaders from smaller regions can be charged under anti-terrorism laws. The laws were not supposed to be used to quell legitimate political protest, but to curb growing organised and violent militancy in the country. Ironically, the day Baba Jan was released, the Punjab bureaucracy had issued a detention order for Lahore-based academic and activist Ammar Ali Jan, highlighting just how little safe this country's progressives really are.

Gilgit-Baltistan has erupted in protest a number of times over the last decade over a range of questions, including environmental issues, subsidies and autonomy. As the region has begun finding its political voice, it has unsettled many in the Pakistani political and security elite who had become used to governing the region from Islamabad without considering the voice of the people of the region. There is now a need for a larger recognition that a return to the old status quo is not possible in Gilgit-Baltistan. A new consensus will need to be found in which the people of the region define their own needs and future. This will require activists like Baba Jan to be able to freely represent the voice of their people. We do not want to be a nation in which those who are responsible for terrorist acts walk free, while those who carry out demands for a betterment in the lives of people are held for years behind bars or harassed and threatened. Baba Jan represents hope for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Here's hoping the state at least tries to make up for the years of injustice he has seen.