Tue. Oct 27th, 2020

Change of guards in Islamabad, and Gilgit-Baltsitan

D J Mathal

At last, the Supreme Court of Pakistan sent Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani packing for his recalcitrance and refusal to write to the Swiss authorities for reopening the money laundering case against President Asif Ali Zardari. On April 26, the apex court while declaring Mr Gilani guilty of contempt of court had also sentenced him to imprisonment till rising of the court – for 30 seconds. The former prime minister and his team remained perplexed whether to celebrate the ruling or mourn it. Then during the coming 55 days, there were speculations in all parts of the country whether Mr Gilani had the justification to cling to power after the court verdict. However, on June 19, the court made it clear for all and sundry and declared that Mr Gilani had lost the post with effect from April 26 and all his decisions and steps taken during this period stood illegal. It also ordered the election commission to denotify him as member of the National Assembly. With the judgment, Mr Gilani also became disqualified for taking part in elections for five years. With this, the whole cabinet of Mr Gilani, including the advisers, lost their posts. These also included three advisers on Gilgit-Baltistan.

It is not clear whether the new prime minister, Raja Pervez Ashraf, who is also the ex-officio chairman of the Gilgit-Baltistan Council, would retain these three as his advisers or not. It may be pointed out here that for the last over two years since the establishment of the Gilgit-Baltistan Council, this house has failed to show its vitality and usefulness for the people of the region. Rather, it has become an unnecessary economic burden on the cash-strapped region.

After much speculations and development, the PPP proposed the name of Raja Pervez Ashraf as the next prime minister and the National Assembly elected him for the remaining term by 212 votes. The dismissal of Mr Gilani would definitely put effects on the politics of Gilgit-Baltistan. Though considered as a well-wisher of the people of the region, Mr Gilani and his government did nothing substantial for the overall socio-economic development of the region. Before the 2009 elections, the former prime minister visited Gilgit and Skardu and made many promises for launching development projects in the area but none of them could see the light of the day even after the passage of three years. His promises to give big city status to Gilgit and Skardu, appoint 5,000 personnel in the police and upgrade the communication links of the two cities remained a distant dream. He had also promised to provide Rs5 billion to the region during the coming five years but so far only Rs3 billion have been released and it is not clear on which projects these funds are being spent. Besides, Rs870 million were also announced for the health sector but so far there is no indication that the money has been given to the region for improvement of the haggard health care facilities. The former prime minister had also announced that Skardu road would be reconstructed and upgraded and since then Mehdi Shah has been running from pillar to post to get the amount but there is no hope that these funds would ever be released to the local government. Mr Gilani’s promise to make Shigar a new district also remains unfulfilled. It seems the former prime minister had made all these promises to get votes in the 2009 elections and after attaining his objectives he never cared to fulfilled his promises. There is also the issue of the affected people of the 2010 floods and Attabad debris lake who had been given the first instalment of the promised compensation and now it is feared that under the prevailing situation in Pakistan they would never get the remaining amount even after three years.

A few months back, President Asif Ali Zardari also visited Skardu where the PPP local ministers reminded him of Mr Gilani’s promises. The president also talked in the same way and said all the promises made by Mr Gilani would be fulfilled. It is unfortunate that Mehdi Shah has been making tall claims about his good working relationship with the president and prime minister of Pakistan but he has failed to get any major uplift project approved for the backward region so far.

The chief minister had been requesting the former prime minister to increase the development budget of the region but every time he got the response that the region would get sufficient funds. However, today the development budget of the region remains the same as it was about five years back notwithstanding the rising inflation.

Mr Gilani, after giving the so-called autonomy and self governance package of 2009 to the region, remained non-committal as far as development of the region was concerned. And after his departure, nobody in the region should have any misconception that his successor would do anything different for the development of the region. Whoever comes to power in Islamabad has no bearing on the future of this disputed region. For the last over six decades, successive governments in Islamabad, both military and civilian, have been hoodwinking the two million people of Gilgit-Baltistan in order to prolong Pakistan’s colonial and illegal rule in the region. As a result, the region and its people have been suffering from lots of problems as though they are living under a martial law. Under the new package, puppet governor an chief minister have been installed in the region but everyone knows that all key decisions concerning the region are still taken in Islamabad without taking the local leadership into confidence. The members of the legislative assembly of the region and the cabinet members and advisers remain busy in corrupt practices and they have nothing to do for the welfare of the masses. In such a situation, the people of the region have lost all hopes in both their local as well as the federal governments.

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The contributor is Chief Editor of Bang-e-Sahar.

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