A churlish breeze from the snow-capped mountains often heralds the mornings in sparsely-populated Gilgit. The natural splendor in its pristine form attracts a stampede of tourists from across the globe every year to witness the convergence of nature with beauty. The conspicuous ranges with alluring peaks adorned by the sheet of snow often keep Gilgit-Baltistan in the focal point of media projection on national as well as on international forums. But, seldom has anyone stepped further and brought the flipside of the story to the fore. Gilgit-Baltistan with its all beauty stands among the most neglected regions in the entire world which is now burning in the scorching flames of extremism and sectarianism. The common inhabitants of Gilgit ever since the independence have been at a loss. A holistic academic dive into this chapter will reveal some sad and, to many, some intriguing realities which are revolving around the lives of common citizens of Gilgit-Baltistan.
The administrative affairs in Gilgit before the pseudo-provincial set-up were governed by the offices of Chief Secretary and Inspector General( still the affairs are run by them). Their boss was the Major General at FCNA who had the final say upon each step aimed at improving the life of people. No one hailing from Gilgit ever in history gained these posts neither can anyone dream in the future. These three symbols of utter power throughout the course of 62 years (still on) have been pushing the vehicle of entire bureaucratic, political and military mechanism. In other words, they were the landlords who were wielding awesome powers without holding accountable to the public. Leave alone the masses, the representatives of Gilgit were also treated with mistrust. The newly introduced system in which Chief Minister and Governor along his members are also the lame ducks who can drive the glow-radiating cars with green flags on the bonnet but can not afford to draw the wrath of former masters.
The people of Gilgit-Baltistan have been striving painstakingly to acquire their constitutional rights from Pakistan. Indigenous campaigns in a bid to extract their rights were launched but still no major break-through has been achieved. Gilgit does not have any representation in the Senate or in the National Assembly. Imagine, the orders of Supreme Court are also immaterial in this region. The grievances of common people are not carried into the corridors of powerful helms. A common citizen of Gilgit can’t put his bit for a change in Pakistan. He can’t cast his vote on the national electoral landscape. He can’t protest for a change in regime. He can’t be a part in the drafting of national policies. Recently, a conference for the energy and electricity conservation was held in which Gilgit, the major (would-be) contributor of energy to Pakistan, was not invited. Conclusively, the commoners of Gilgit are on the fringes of all the political, social and national campaigns and have no role in shaping the dynamics of any change.
The social fabric of Gilgit is fraying with time. Suicidal rates have risen at the rate of knots in some districts. If a small boy commits suicide in any part of Pakistan, it grabs the headlines of mainstream media, while a string of sole bread earners of families committed suicides in Gilgit but the media turned a blind to this ever-surging tide of suicide. An entire river straddles across the chest of Gilgit, but still the city of Gilgit lives in the pitch darkness. Numerous springs gush forth from the mouths of mountains which collective give shape to various streams, but still the major part of population is deprived of drinkable water.
Educational system is in shambles; devoid of modern techniques. Private institutes are operative but are not on par with international standards. Students often migrate to bigger cities after secondary education to pursue academic flight. There is a university in the region which is just a mockery of educational institutes. Those who either have been rejected from other universities of bigger cities or those who can not afford to bear the expenses of other universities reluctantly file their application for the admission in this university.
Scores of students after culminating their secondary education from the private institutes in Gilgit undertake a strenuous journey to bigger cities in order to pursue their academic studies. The chief problem of this migration is the transportation which is either by air or by road. The air flights are always at the mercy of weather which is often inclement in this part of the country; as a result, the frequency of cancellations is quite high. Additionally, the air fares are also beyond the range of majority. The Karakoram road is carved out of rocky mountains. A narrowed metallic road, it keeps the passengers alert through the journey. Owing to the mercurial climatic conditions, the other mode of transportation is also blocked sometimes for weeks together. There is also a possibility of deadly attacks on buses by the fanatics in adjoining territories as well. Students also have to come into the grips with the new atmosphere in the migrated area. The life style and the chores of bigger cities are distantly different from rural areas. Students toil hard to acclimatize with the new trends of life and in the process consume their energies and precious time. They remain in these cities for years to complete their studies without the monitoring of parents. There are high chances of them being dragged into frenzied activities and ended up becoming outlaws.
The proverb, ‘All that glitters is not gold’, sums up the story of Gilgit. Behind the beautiful streams and lush greenery of Gilgit, there is a grim chapter of untold stories which are still be explored. The sin of being someone from Gilgit does not depart the commoners and runs into their death.