All the political parties of Gilgit – Baltistan – be them federalist, separatists or opportunists, are agreed on one point; that the region shall be ruled by the local people. This agreement is expressed in many different forms, for example, by asking for Kashmir – style government, fifth province gimmick and, toward the other end, ‘independence’ from Pakistan. You ask the leaders behind demand for Kashmir – like – status and the answer is ‘at least we can have our own prime minister and other leaders’. Pose the same question to the lover of the fifth province dogma and you get the same answer. Try the separatist and the answer is not very different. What the people want to get out of their struggle is, grip on the government, control over lives of the people and absolute influence in affairs of the region. Elimination of poverty, creating an educated society, bringing economic prosperity, bringing peace and harmony and ensuring justice, is not very prominent in the list of priorities of our leaders and their parties.
The quote related to power, that ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ might be old, but it is still very much valid across all human societies. Let’s take the example of our elected representatives, always craving for more and more power, threatening to resign from the office, every now and then because of ‘powerlessness’. Let’s see what they have done with the little authority that trickles downs to their ranks, passing from the corridors of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. This would help us understand what will be fate of the impoverished people of Gilgit – Baltistan, if out of the blue, we get self rule. I am asserting this because I can’t see any significant difference in the ‘leadership styles’ of the ‘local’ leaders and the outsiders.
Starting from the top; the chief executive, Mr Ghazanfar Ali Khan, used his personal contacts with Mir Zafar Ullah Khan Jamali to save money that he had borrowed from banks of the country, in the form of loans. He also used his influence to illegally capture the Silk Route Dry Port, Sost. The verdict of an esteemed court can be consulted to know the realities. He has used his personal influence to promote nepotism, regionalism, and racism in the region over the period of his rule. Interestingly, since he is elected by majority of the people of Hunza so, to be frank, he might very well be reflecting the priorities of the voters, themselves.
The honorable “Advisors” have been busy licking the boots of their ‘masters’ while in the mean time suppressing political opponents, taking commissions on NAPWD contracts, misappropriating public money, bragging about bringing changes – and changing the size of their bank balances and colors of their homes, to the most. The ‘elected legislators’ are wise to see the trade off between opting for a seat in the assembly and leaving their ‘Thekedari’. So, most of them do both. They are more interested in getting contracts for building of canals, bridges, drainage systems and buildings than ‘wasting’ their time in the assembly – seating on the benches, passing resolutions and clapping for the visiting rulers.
Then there are the self-serving leaders of the political parties who use their positions to strengthen their own positions, their businesses, and their trade relations, use their influence to get concessions over trade with china, trade their allegiance for getting top positions in their professions and, the story goes on, unabated. There are the so-called nationalist leaders who change their political ideologies even faster then a Chameleon does. There are the self-serving nationalist leaders who yell at the top of their voice, chanting rights, rights, rights, but unaware of what they mean when they say rights. There are still others who want to drag us into the proxy wars of different countries and interest groups and organizations, and that too in the guise of nationalism.
Not behind the politicians are the local bureaucrats who use their power and influence to fill their respective organizations with people belonging to their own family, village or, to the most, their sect. AGPR is run by local bureaucrats, of different cadres and skills, and is the most notorious for bribery and corruption, seconded only by the NAPWD. It is said that even a very low grade clerk at the AGPR makes money by taking bribes from the government servants who retire, from the political leaders and representatives of the local body organizations when they seek to attain the money issued for different developmental projects and from rest of all the people who have to engage with these ridiculous ‘organization’. The department of health, education, social welfare, you name them, are not exceptions to the norms discussed above.
Interestingly, now the government officers, inspired by the ‘lifestyle’ of the NGO officers have started using non-custom-paid (NCP) (smuggled) vehicles, with green number plates – making fun of law and the lawful people in broad day light.
Let’s come to the so-called ‘development professionals’ of the region, the NGO barons – hoisting flags of their success on the mountains of myth and deception, making reports on reports to grab a few more cents from the donor agencies, organizing zillions of seminars, workshops, trainings and making a lot of money in the process. Except from a very few established NGOs most of these money making machines are of no real use for the society. They aren’t different from the people who plunder monetary resources at the public organizations. These people live lavish lives, roaming in imported, expensive, vehicles
So, shall we bask under the glory of the not-so-sublime rule of the outsiders? Don’t we have the right to be the decider of our own fate? I know these are questions roaming in your thought. Well, no, we don’t need to be happy but we shall also not expect a different type of ‘rule’ from our own people, at least the existing lot.
Where is the hope then? Is there a light at the end of the metaphoric tunnel? Will things change, ever? Shall things change? What is the solution? Where is the remedy?
The remedy is the educated youth. Yes, I know that they have been made the fuel of sectarian wars – master minded by their elders, but they haven’t internalized it yet. They want to break away from the chains of sectarian hatred. They want to live dignified lives. They want to see their region get the economic and cultural height that it deserves. My experience of meetings with hundreds of youth from across the region, be it Darel or Darkut, be it Shigar or Misgar or be it Gilgit or Astore, tells me that the desire to change the economic, cultural, political and religious issues of the region, once and for all, is very much there. Many youngsters are already engaged in activities that offer solutions for the ills of our society.
What we need are leaders who can turn this desire into a movement of social, cultural and political enlightenment. These leaders shall come from the educated young people of Gilgit – Baltistan. The youth have to be prepared for their future roles and for a different type of society. They shall know what the society they want to create will bring to their region. They shall train themselves by acquiring the mental and physical capacities required for altering the future of an entire society. The youth must know that only desiring for change doesn’t change things. We need to believe in the change, internalize it and then strategize ways out to reach the goals that are in our minds. The youth of today must not follow the paths trodden by the inept, self serving and corrupt leaders because they are going to be the leaders of tomorrow. The young people need to take lingual, sectarian, regional and cultural identities as nodes on the network and not as points of division. That is the only way forward. Otherwise nothing is going to change, in the real sense of the term.
This process is going to take time. It isn’t a day’s work. It is going to take years. And the in the mean time we can influence the ‘policy makers’, the opinion leaders, political thinkers, the religious leaders and members of the society – starting from our homes, and prepare them for the time when you will be leading the society. Take responsibility from now, concentrate on acquiring the skills needed and pursue the dream of a society that is prosperous, self-sufficient, just and progressive.