Last week the have-nots went on a rampage in England, looting and ransacking the haunts of the privileged. While the British Prime Minister conveniently blamed the parents and teachers of the rioters for not teaching them better, and hundreds of people were arrested for the crimes, little attention was paid to the inbuilt vulnerability of a society that glorifies consumption as an over-riding value for all, but is structured, paradoxically, to make the rich richer and the poor poorer and hence out of the stores that sell the 'good life'. This systematic plundering of the poor for the benefit of a powerful and greedy elite is starker and more heartless in the global context; imperialism might have taken a new form, but it is certainly not dead. As we celebrate our Independence Day, let's ask ourselves what independence really means. And let's not forget our fellow citizens from Gilgit-Baltistan whose double dilemma is rarely recognised. If freedom from the British Raj meant an end to the robbery of the vast riches of our land and the beginning of their utilisation for the betterment of our people, we are still far from that goal 64 years later. Like a chameleon, colonial exploitation has only changed its colour. In our case, the British Empire and its Union Jack has been replaced by unscrupulous multinational corporations and their multifarious logos. The local collaborators swear their hypocritical allegiance to the Constitution of Pakistan and not the British crown, but they continue to work for the interests of foreign masters rather than the people of Pakistan in whose name they exercise power. Those in charge of our destiny do not see the land and people they govern with a homegrown vision informed by our strengths, values and needs. Like overfed beasts of burden, blinkered, muzzled and harnessed, they pull carriages laden with our gold to distant shores and lead us to poverty. As long as they get their share, crumbs of power and pillage, they are happy to go along with this exploitative arrangement. Residing in high security lofty palaces, cavalcades of their limousines whizzing through barricaded cities amidst sirens, their conscience is not pricked by the multiplying problems of the multitude they lord over with borrowed money and second-hand power. They implement dictated policies to facilitate profiteering bandits, corporate interests pimped by the so-called democratic governments in the so-called developed world. They take on the airs of royalty, but act as lowly unquestioning serfs of insatiable global shylocks. They think their job is to hold us down while the international financial institutions extract pound after pound of our flesh, to spill our blood for the dirty games foreign rich men play to grab resources from the local poor. They are no different from our erstwhile colonial masters save the colour of their skin. Their arrogance and disdain for Pakistani citizens is imperial as well. They view the high offices they occupy as a privilege and not as a responsibility, as a source of patronage for their families and friends rather than an opportunity to serve the people. While the citizens across the length and breadth of Pakistan are being suffocated under the unwholesome burden of these local instruments of colonial exploitation, their colonial mindset is most glaring in the northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan where, in addition to the problems of development and governance faced by us down south, the citizens have been denied their constitutional rights even on paper. The leaders of independent Pakistan have continued to view them through the lens of a colonial framework, ignoring their aspirations and their brave and heroic struggle. To add insult to injury, the denial of their constitutional rights has been perpetrated for decades in the name of national interest. Much confusion has been created around the status of Gilgit-Baltistan by those in charge of our destiny. It has been projected as a part of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute that is to be resolved through a plebiscite under the United Nations. In reality, Gilgit-Baltistan does not figure in the dispute and the region was not a part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir that was sold by the British to the Maharaja of Kashmir. The Maharaja's hold over the area at the time of partition was actually due to an armed occupation, which was overthrown in 1947-48 by a war of independence fought by the local population. After getting rid of the illegal occupation, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan chose to become a part of Pakistan and handed over the administration of the freed region to it. In 1949, courtesy a convoluted colonial logic, Pakistan's representative to the UN Security Council raised the issue of including the region in the plebiscite to settle the Kashmir dispute. It was thought that the pro-Pakistan population in the region would add to the votes in our favour. And thus an integral part of Pakistan was brought into dispute by our leadership. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan have gone along with this poorly defined concept of national interest for decades and have willingly sacrificed their rights as citizens of Pakistan for it. For years, they were governed by political agents and bureaucrats, and though successive governments have increased the scope of self-governance and constitutional rights to the area, they still don't have representatives in the National Assembly and the Senate and rights at par with their fellow countrymen. Even the present government's Gilgit-Baltistan Order fell short of giving it a provincial status and the constitutional rights enjoyed by people in other provinces of Pakistan. The excuse given was the same: The region is a part of the Kashmir dispute. While the people of the region are denied their full rights on this pretext, it is ironic that they are never consulted regarding the dispute. While Azad Kashmir has its own constitution, assemblies and an independent judiciary, Gilgit-Baltistan, after years of bureaucratic rule, must make do with a half-baked provincial status. It is a poor reflection on the leadership of an independent nation to disregard the aspirations of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and treat them merely as votes that will tilt the balance in a promised, but much delayed plebiscite. This colonial calculus does not justify the denial of rights to the citizens, who fought a war to be a part of Pakistan and whose hearts, even after all the shoddy treatment meted out to them for decades, still beat in unison with the nation. As the privileged elite in our pampered cities turns its back on Pakistan, hankering after immigration to the bastions of colonialism, the patriotism that one finds in this heavenly region is refreshing. Patriotism is considered out of fashion among those who have got the most out of Pakistan. Sickened by the ill-considered free-floating loyalty of my privileged friends down south, I changed my plans and decided to stay back an extra day in Skardu in order to celebrate this Independence Day with Pakistanis who truly love Pakistan, despite the fact that they have not got their due share from the state. The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: