Selig Harrison loses no opportunity to show that Pakistan's disintegration is only around the corner and prove that Sino-Pakistan relations threaten US interests.
Among those who lay claim to scholarship, yet instead of being objective in their analysis openly promote bias, readily lend their pen to support vested interests, and put their ‘scholarly stamp of approval’ on false propaganda to lend credibility, Mr. Selig Harrison immediately comes to mind.
At times in league with the Indian propagandists, and finding a willing partner in the New York Times, where his articles generally find space, he engages in a smear campaign against Pakistan. In this, his ability of crystal ball gazing comes in handy too.
In 2006, Mr. Harrison, who styles himself as a specialist on Balochistan, saw in his crystal ball the success of Baloch insurgency movements that he reported in his articles in the New York Times and the French newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique. He predicted that the world would soon see a Free Balochistan, an entity that would also include the Iranian Balochistan & Sistan province. Promoting a Pentagon dream authored by a retired Col. Ralph Peter in his treatise ‘Blood Borders’, Mr. Harrison also predicted that Sindhis will join hands with the Balochis.
While he awaits the realization of that dream, Mr. Harrison chose this time to adopt the script of the Indian propagandists about Pakistan’s Northern Areas, now called Gilgit Baltistan. If in the process he made some gross misstatements, it is another matter. In his piece in the New York Times of August 26, headlined ‘China’s Discreet Hold on Pakistan’s Northern Borderlands’, Mr. Harrison claimed that: “A quiet geopolitical crisis is unfolding in the Himalayan borderlands of northern Pakistan, where Islamabad is handing over de facto control of the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan region in the northwest corner of disputed Kashmir to China”. He went on to state that the Chinese had deployed 7,000-11,000 troops in the area.
During his crystal ball gazing, Mr. Harrison rightly saw some Chinese faces in the Gilgit Baltistan region. But he made two errors: he counted their numbers wrong and he mistook the coveralls of the Chinese workers for military uniforms. They were neither 7,000 to 11,000 in number nor were they troops of the People’s Liberation Army. In fact, they were either humanitarian team members sent by the Chinese Government at Pakistan’s request to help in rescue and relief work for 25,000 people stranded after recent heavy floods and landslides, or they were construction workers engaged in the repair of Karakoram Highway and undertaking communication infrastructure projects along with Pakistani counterparts, under government to government arrangement.
Unfortunately, Mr. Harrison did not stop at that. He went on to declare that: “The entire Pakistan-occupied western portion of Kashmir stretching from Gilgit in the north to Azad (Free) Kashmir in the south is closed to the world, in contrast to the media access that India permits in the eastern part, where it is combating a Pakistan-backed insurgency.”
Mr. Harrison was partially right. The area of Hunza Valley has indeed been closed, but for a different reason. Early January this year the Karakorum Highway to China had to be closed (except for travel by small boat) due to a massive landslide 15 km upstream from Hunza’s capital of Karimabad that created the unstable Attabad Lake which reached 22 km in length and over 100 meters in depth by the first week of June. The lake displaced thousands and inundated over 20 km of the Pak-China highway, including a 310 meter long road bridge. The lake finally flowed over the landslide dam, but not before washing away several segments of the highway, small bridges and culverts and this is expected to take about two years to repair. The Chinese and Pakistanis are now engaged in repairs
Only if Mr. Harrison had done some fact checking before dashing his story off to the Times, he would have been saved of the embarrassment.
Pakistan’s foreign office was more direct in dismissing Mr. Harrison’s story as a “figment of imagination”. Its spokesman said, “Given Selig Harrison’s well-known anti-Pakistan mindset, his gross misrepresentation of facts is hardly surprising. Nor is it unexpected of India to create unnecessary hype using Mr. Harrison’s tendentious article…. China, at our request, is helping us in repairing the Karakoram highway, which has been severely damaged by the recent floods and landslides. Anything beyond this is one’s figment of imagination.”
China’s Foreign Ministry also called the story “groundless”, saying it was being put out with “ulterior motives” to hurt Beijing’s ties with New Delhi and Islamabad.
After Mr. Harrison’s assertions have been doubly dismissed as ‘figment of imagination’ by the Pakistanis and ‘ulterior motives’ by the Chinese, there is no need to dwell further on his accusation that Pakistan denies access to its side of Gilgit Baltistan and Kashmir to outsiders and to the media. But since Mr. Harrison has raised the issue, it would be appropriate to set the record straight by pointing out that Pakistan does not forbid foreigners or members of the international media from traveling to Gilgit Baltistan or Pakistani side of Kashmir. Instead of passing judgments from his perch in the US, let Mr. Harrison come down to see things for himself. I would be happy to accompany him to these areas, should he undertake the journey.
But the same cannot be claimed by the administration of the Indian occupied Kashmir, which has gross human rights violations to hide. And let Mr. Harrison be under no illusion that the insurgency that rocks Indian Kashmir is truly indigenous and not Pakistan backed. This is recognized by the state government of Occupied Kashmir, the international media, the international community and human rights organizations. Ordinary men, women and children die not at Pakistan’s behest. They die for their love of freedom.
In his article, Mr. Harrison makes yet another interesting revelation. Citing “reports from a variety of foreign intelligence sources, Pakistani journalists and Pakistani human rights workers”, not one of whom he chooses to disclose, he talks of “a simmering rebellion against Pakistani rule” in Gilgit Baltistan. He is clearly advancing the Indian theme that he has been fed on – probably about the one-man led separatist movement called “Bilawaristan” that not even the people of the region know about. He intelligently chooses to call it a ‘simmering rebellion’ because it cannot be seen on the surface, intriguingly not even by the people among whom it is supposed to simmer, and is only visible to the Indians or Mr. Harrison. Several people from Gilgit and Baltistan whom I spoke on this issue were left nonplussed.
Kashmiris on Pakistan’s side do not have a complaint about their self rule in their autonomous state, as Mr. Harrison suggests. Not only have they have been demanding that their brethren on the Indian side be allowed to unite with them, the Indo-Pakistan dialogue has more or less centered on freedom for Kashmiris on the Indian side where a bloody freedom struggle is underway. In case of reservations about their own destiny, Kashmiris on the Pakistan side would have been clamoring to join the Kashmiris under Indian control instead.
Perhaps it is time for Mr. Harrison to brush up his knowledge about the region a little bit. Located in the north of Pakistan, Northern Areas (or Gilgit Baltistan as it is now called) borders Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to the west, Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor to the north, the Xinjiang region of China to the northeast, Pakistan-held Azad Kashmir to the south, and Indian Occupied Kashmir to the southeast. With an estimated population of over a million, the Northern Areas are nestled in some of the world’s highest mountain ranges namely, the Karakoram, the western Himalayas, the Pamirs and the Hindu Kush.