In the last ten years, academics have regularly discussed Gilgit-Baltistan’s illegibility and marginality in relation to Pakistan. Often their discussions focus on how Gilgit-Baltistan is represented by federal maps (as well as by the national censuses or educational textbooks) in order to reflect about the attitude of Pakistan towards Gilgit-Baltistan. In such material, scholars have argued, the image and imaginary of a state, its boundaries, inclusions and exclusions of regions and people, are shaped by the state. Looking at maps, they argue that Gilgit-Baltistan is often either not delineated or named appropriately. For example the region is simply referred to as the “area in the north of Pakistan” or “Northern Pakistan” rather than even the “Northern Areas”, as would have been correct until 2009.
Their arguments concerning the region’s appearance or even non-appearance in maps have focused on the reasons why and when Gilgit-Baltistan is formally defined and made visible as a component of the State. By concealing Gilgit-Baltistan from maps or other forms of state representation, academics have discussed how this provides evidence of Pakistan’s step-motherly treatment of the region and its inhabitants.
Therefore, I was delighted when I went to the International Tourism Bourse in Berlin (ITB) on the 9th of March. Roaming through the multitude of stalls I found myself in the hall where “Pakistan” had its showcase. I had visited Pakistan – or rather: in Gilgit-Baltistan – and was excited to see how Pakistan would represent itself on this international fair.
In Hall 7, where Pakistan had set up its stall alongside those of Iran and Iraq, my eye immediately fell on the stall labelled “Gilgit-Baltistan” and the “Jewel of Pakistan” on the top-row banner. Delighted, I walked over to the booth and its team which provided information about the different valleys of Gilgit-Baltistan, many of which were also the places I had visited. Assuming at first that I had just found one regional stall, I soon learned that at this event, the stall for Gilgit-Baltistan was representing Pakistan as a whole. Apparently this has been the case since the Gilgit-Baltistan Reform Package was introduced and the federal government had invited Gilgit-Baltistan to organize the Pakistan stall. Of course, the team working at the stall provided information and materials not only about Gilgit-Baltistan, but also about other popular tourist sites like Chitral and Taxila. But the majority of promotional material was concerning Gilgit-Baltistan, its beautiful scenery and its tourist attractions. In this way, the hyphenated Gilgit-Baltistan-Pakistan followed the same approaches used in previous tourism campaigns, highlighting the region’s landscape, mountaineering activities, and the Karakoram Highway, as well as heritage sites, such as the royal forts in Hunza. With the multitude of attractions focusing on the natural environment or historic remains like forts and rock carvings (both space without people), this on the other hand means that the contemporary place with the people was again rather left aside.
But none the less, at least in Berlin, Gilgit-Baltistan has been chosen to represent Pakistan as a whole and to represent it as an integral part of Pakistan. This demonstrates that while the academic literature tends to focus on the ways that Gilgit-Baltistan has been left in the dark, on this occasion Gilgit-Baltistan is the highlight of Pakistan.
The contributor is a student of Social Sciences at Humboldt University Berlin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org