Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), formerly known as the Northern Areas, is part of the unfinished partition plan of the subcontinent, when Pakistan and India gained independence from British Raj in 1947. Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) and GB comprise the disputed Kashmir region.

On August 29, 2009, GB was granted self-rule under the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009 by the Government of Pakistan. With this, the people of GB, commonly known as Baltis, are empowered to elect their own Legislative Assembly, thus achieving provincial status, without officially becoming a province of Pakistan.

GB’s location is strategic, bordering Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to the west, Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor to the north, China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to the east and northeast, Azad Jammu and Kashmir to the southwest, and IHK to the southeast.

Besides this, its strategic location, its picturesque valleys, serene lakes, verdant plateaus and lofty peaks attract tourists and mountaineering expeditions.

Indeed, the development for Baltis has been slow, but the advent of the Karakoram Highway in the 1970s linking GB with China has opened up tremendous trade and commerce opportunities for the people of the region.

The planned railway with Chinese support will be a marvel of engineering, meandering through the treacherous mountains and valleys and promise enhanced economic activity as well as employment opportunities for the Baltis.

In this milieu, it is not surprising that vested interests want to exploit the simple, but hardworking Balti people. The forefathers of the current generation had fought bravely alongside Pakistani mujahideen for their independence from the Hindu Dogra rule and Indian occupation.

Generation after generation, the Baltis have borne allegiance to Pakistan, proudly hoisted the Pakistani flag on their rooftops and chanted the Pakistani national anthem with patriotic zeal and fervour, defending Pakistan and GB against Indian assaults in the wars that followed the 1947-48 Kashmir War.

There is not an iota of doubt that the Baltis will opt for Pakistan, whenever the UN sponsored plebiscite is held, to declare their right of self-determination.

Having failed to physically occupy GB, India and a few other detractors have launched a heinous plan to sow the seeds of doubt and secession to exploit minor rivalries and create ethnic and sectarian strife with a view to damage the national interests of Pakistan.

The macabre plot of the detractors comprises a vicious propaganda campaign targeting the Balti people and polluting their minds by distorting historical truths through their malicious write-ups, articles and seminars organised on foreign soil.

The aim is to accord more credibility to their propaganda and also muster foreign support for their selective Psychological Operations (Psy Ops) against Pakistan. The detractors have recruited willing villains to further their odious plot.

Against this backdrop, the conspiratorial role played by one Imtiaz Hussain and Senge H. Sering is significant. Hussain is the self-appointed President of GB National Congress and is a Virginia-based Satellite Engineer, while Sering is President of Washington-based Institute of GB Studies that professes cultural, economic and environmental rights of people of GB, but actually conducts venomous propaganda against Pakistan, making efforts to tarnish its image in the eyes of the Balti people.

The content of their disinformation campaign not only distorts the historical truth about GB and Pakistan, but also embeds separatist notions in the target audience.

Interestingly, there is a serious dichotomy in the approach of the propagandists. On the one hand, they advocate the resumption of traffic and trade across the Line of Control (LoC) (from GB to Ladakh), while on the other, they oppose serious development plans of the Pakistani government that will increase access to regional prosperity. They falsely propagate that the construction of dams, expressways, railways and gas pipelines will damage the ecosystem, stressing environmental ramifications, which is the popular tune of conservationists.

Sering, who is currently based in New Delhi as visiting faculty at the Indian Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, is being, reportedly, sponsored by RAW to create sense of separatism and feelings of dissent among the loyal people of GB.

There is a dire need for our own media to expose the malicious propaganda being propagated against Pakistan by informing the Baltis about the misinformation campaign, unearthing the plots against their welfare and apprising the world of the machinations against GB.

The writer is a former group captain of PAF, who also served as air and naval attaché at Riyadh. Currently,     he is a columnist, analyst and host of programme Defence & Diplomacy on PTV. Email: sultanm.hali@gmail.com Twitter@nairangezamana