by Abbas Ali
The masses gathered at Lalik Jan Shaheed Nishan-e-Haider stadium, named after a hero of Gilgit-Baltistan who sacrificed his life for the security and safety of the interests of Pakistan in Kargil War, were welcoming Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani expecting he would say something that might be harbinger for a positive change in their lives. The nation of Shaheed Lalik Jan was expecting, sitting in the stadium built in memory of his blood, that Yousf Raza Gillani may bring some lively colors into their lives as they were listening to his speech, but unfortunately in vain.
However, let’s see what the Prime Minister of Pakistan’s much touted uplift package for Gilgit-Baltistan has brought with it. The salient feature of the package could be listed 1) Doubling the vehicle fleet of NATCO, 2) Sost Dry Port to be improved, 3) Gilgit and Skardu airports to be expanded, 3) Reopening of ZTBL and NBP regional offices, 4) NAVTEC bureau to be established in Gilgit for skills development, 5) Basic salary fixed at Rs 6, 000, 6) 150,000 metric ton wheat subsidized for Gilgit Baltistan, 7) Research centre to be set up to study horticulture, 8, 6.5 billion already allocated for the development of Gilgit Baltistan and Rs 5.5 billion more for capacity building, 9) Cold storage centers would be established to preserve the 55 locally produced varieties of Cherry and, 10) establishing a medical college in the region.
Numbering the items of the package, at the surface, is impressive. If we look deep down there is nothing new in the package as most of the elements of this package were either already in pipeline or announced already on different occasions, and it is just a repeated announcement. The most important thing is that there is nothing significant which could help to improve the socio-economic lives of the people of the area and the entire “comprehensive package” is literally tantamount to putting drops into centuries old barren land.
Examining the real or the hidden motives, that we could understand reading between the lines, there are three major points, like Diamer Bhasha and Bunji Dams, precious minerals exploration, and Sost Dry Port. The prime minister talks loudly about these projects being beneficial for Gilgit-Baltistan but reality on the ground are starkly different from what is being mirrored. Everyone knows these three projects are serious needs of Pakistan. To meet the acute power shortage they need the Diamer Basha and Bonji dam, to facilitate trade with China they need Sost Dry Port, which adds to efficiency of Gowader Sea Port. It is a well known fact that the purpose of Gowarder Port is to provide an easy access for China through Pakistan to the hot waters to link it with rest of the world. Similarly, minerals of Gilgit-Baltistan are needed to fill the pockets of political and business elite through foreign exchange that is so desperately needed. I do not mean that people of Gilgit-Baltistan would have any problem for utilizing these resources to benefit Pakistani brothers and sisters, but yes the problem is regarding how to utilize these scarce resources!!
Prime Minister was expected to address the royalty issue of Diamer Bhasha Dam. Why he was silent about it and just talked about the compensation to those who would be displaced during construction of the dam? That is for sure the people whose lands and homes would be submerged would need to be compensated but the major conflict is regarding the royalty, either it would be paid to NWFP or to Gilgit-Baltistan? Prime Minister’s silence might indicate that Pakistan’s government has decided to give the royalty to NWFP. Otherwise if there was something in favor Gilgit-Baltistan, which would be majorly affected by the construction of the dam PM, would have told this good news, but unfortunately he doesn’t have this good news.
The second important thing is the expansion of Sost Dry Port, what does it give to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, save for employment to a couple of hundred people. The income obtained from the Sost Dry Port which, in billions, is being transferred to the notorious Kohistan Development Fund. It is amazing that hard earned income of Gilgit-Baltistan is being transferred to Kohistan, which is currently a district of NWFP, while people in Gilgit-Baltistan are suffering acute poverty and underdevelopment. Prime Minister could have noted this injustice with the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and transferred these funds for the development of Gilgit-Baltistan but he did not.
The third issue is related to exploration of minerals. Mineral rich mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan would be explored but who will get the benefits? Is there any procedure and regulations enacted in this regard so that the rights of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan over their precious assets would not be sabotaged? Nothing has been done in consultation with the people of the area, not even our Legislative Assembly knows anything regarding this issue. What is going to happen in the current situation is that many foreign and Pakistani giants of mineral exploration would come to the area and take the precious assets from real owners; people of Gilgit-Baltistan Of course we will get ‘lucrative’ labor jobs.
Finally, let’s look at the issue of participatory regional governance. Till when would a Punjabi or Pathan or Sindhi Prime Minister be received by a Punjabi or Sindhi or Pathan governor, at the soil of Gilgit – Baltistan? Where are the leadership of Gilgit-Baltistan and the representatives of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan? Being the Prime Minister of a democratic government, this colonial approach of viceroy ship does not inspire anyone, anymore. People of Gilgit-Baltistan expected that steps would be taken to recognize the democratic rights of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and there would be an end to viceroy ship, soon.
At the same wave length, much was expected from Prime Minister regarding the wide popular demand for the additional seats for Hunza, Ghizar, Ghangche, Diamer and Gilgit but again it seems that the Prime Minister was voice proof to listen the raising voices and demands of the people of Hunza and Gilgit-Baltistan that echoed from Hunza to Karachi.
In the nutshell the real economic and social uplift of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan could only happen when the indigenous resources of water, minerals, geographic advantages, its ports and roads are being utilized for the benefits of the people of the area. This could only be ensured when the people of the area are empowered in real sense of the word and not with the hollow promises only. This requires enabling people to take decision and action those are in the best interests of the people. You could not uplift socio-economic conditions with announcement of 5 billion rupees to make sustainable long time impact.
It is important to ensure that the royalty of dams and minerals must be utilized for the benefits of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan which could bring sustainable financial resources and development. The income of Sost Dry Port, which currently goes to Kohistan Development Fund, should be handed over to Gilgit-Baltistan Development Fund as a legitimate and most basic right of the long suffering people of Gilgit-Baltistan. The most important thing is listening to and acting according to the needs and demands of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and empowering them to take decisions and taking off the colonial setup either in the form of new Governorship with his powerful Council over the Gilgit-Baltistan legislative assembly or the previous set-up of chairman and chief executive.
What this visit of Prime Minister of Pakistan seems to be turned out to be, measured on the basis of out-comes of his engagement in the area, is a simple election campaign in support of PPP for the upcoming elections in November 2009. The Prime Minister tried to galvanize the support for PPP with gimmickry of development initiative.
In fact a drama is again being played on the stage using the symbolic importance of the hero of Gilgit-Baltistan, Shaheed Lalik Jan, Nishan-e-Haider, who would be laughing loud on the Prime Minister of Pakistan for this fouled drama played with the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and attracting innocent people on false hopes to the stadium built in memory of Shahid Lalik Jan’s services.
The writer is a graduate of AKU – ISMC, London. He contributes to DAWN, Pamir Times and works as a consultant for social development programmes.
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