An in-depth study of current political history of Gilgit-Baltistan reveals the actual situation and reasons of powerlessness of existing political parties and their leadership in GB.
Modern period in the political history and political processes in GB started from 1974 with the abolishment of FCR and princely states in GB. For the first time the practice of elections on party basis in Gilgit-Baltistan started in November 1994. The last election of GB assembly constituted under the GB empowerment and self-Governance order 2009 was the fourth election contested on party basis, whereas, since the establishment of advisory council in 1972 it was tenth election in the region.
Although, there were political movements in GB before abolishment of FCR, like a movement started in early fifties against it (FCR) which caused 7 causalities in Punial Tehsil of Ghizer; agitation also occurred in Hunza and Nagar as well. In the early fifties a local nationalist political group named Millat Party was formed in Gilgit headed by Mr. Johar Ali khan advocate. However, despite of these undercurrents, due to FCR there was no room for the political activities in GB from 1947 to 1974.
The “Golden Period of political activism, so to say, started soon after abolishment of FCR, which allowed political activities in the region. The first local right based political party “Milat Party” was merged into Pakistan Pople’s Party (PPP) by its leadership after the promise of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to abolish the FCR from the region. It seems that the ultimate objective of Millat party was the abolishment of FCR.
Now the ground was empty after the FCR to play an effective role by political leadership. But due to the conspiracies of outside bureaucracy with the help of local clergy, the political leadership was precluded from playing its role and political activities were banned in the region again.
The local administration showed high handedness to local people, which led to an attack on Gilgit jail by large numbers of local people who broke into the jail and released political activists who were incarcerated for agitating against the local administration.
After that incident the local administration devised a long term strategy to weaken the political leadership in the region. The strategy involved enabling the formation of an alliance between the bureaucracy and the clergy. From there on both, the clergy and the bureaucracy, became became more powerful actors in the local political arena.
In 1980s the region witnessed emergence of NGOs on the screen. These NGOs attracted the people due to their fascinating slogans of development. The NGOs took over the responsibility of development. Instead of government local people considered NGOs as their service providers in the fields of education, irrigation, livestock, agriculture, health and building the basic infrastructure and social development. The mere political activity in the region was to engage with these NGOs, while the whole Government machinery was in relaxed mood due to lack of public pressure and no criticism on their performance. So the NGOs were the third nail in the coffin of political parties after the clergy and bureaucracy.
Bureaucracy, clergy and NGOs were the three main factors that led to the depoliticization of the whole society of Gilgit-Baltistan. Still these three segments are the centers of power. A lay man considers these the real providers of security, jobs, shelter etc. While the political segment of society has a weak say in the society. Politician themselves need the support of above mentioned three segments. Main power in politics is lacking while the cream of society is harnessed by those three elements.
The ground in GB has generally not been feasible for political movements to flourish. Therefore, almost every political movement has been initiated outside of GB, like the Karakuram Students Organisation (student wing of Karakuram National Movement), Balawaristan National Front, Baltistan Student’s Federation and the Ghizer Students federation etc. were formed in Karachi in late sixties and eighties.
These secular and nationalistic movements were gradually increasing their influence in the society of GB but the sectarian clash in 1988 sabotaged all political efforts. Later on Gilgit-Baltistan National Alliance (GBNA), an alliance of 14 political parties of GB, and Gilgit-Baltistan Democratic Alliance, which was alliance of 5 nationalist parties of GB, had also increased the political awareness by their campaigns, but the murder of Agha Ziauddin Rizvi of 2005 and ongoing sectarian violence sabotaged the efforts of both alliances.
The weak element among above mentioned three segments is the NGOs which seeks the support of bureaucracy and clergy. The latter mentioned two segments have shifted their pressure to NGOs for taking the responsibility of service provision. I am an eye witness of an event, when some people blocked the road in Silpli village of Punial accusing an NGO of not providing teachers in a school in the village established by that NGO. When I asked one of the protesters whether they have Government schools in their village or not? He replied, no. Then I asked why he had not protested against the Government for not providing the school in the area? He had no answer. But I understood that they were not aware about the responsibility of Government because the responsibility has been taken by the NGO. There are so many examples in the field of health, agriculture and development. Apart from it these NGOs engaged the ‘cream’ from among the local people who could, otherwise, have played a good role to activate the Government functionaries.
On the other hand to carry out political activity means to oppose the three segments. Therefore, people do not like to detach themselves from the power centers and people hate the politics and not ready to guide their children to choose the field of politics due to fear of clergy and establishment.
The result of above mentioned trend is that we have no visionary political leadership in the region that will be able to utilize the strategic importance and natural resources of the region to improve the living standard of people. More than fifteen main stream political parties of Pakistan have their provincial chapters in GB but they are silent on the issue of political rights of GB. The available political cadre who represents the main stream political parties in GB is on the pay role of establishment because the establishment and clergy are the centers of powers. Chief Minister, Governor and ministers are just puppets. The GB empowerment and self-Governance 2009 is nothing more than a new face of previous LFOs and the new names of old public office holders. Nationalist parties have lost their trust due to their wrong strategies. While some progressive parties have recently attracted hundreds of youth from GB but they have no say in GB like other parts of Pakistan. So it’s a challenge for the youth of GB in future who are interested to take part in the practical politics of GB that how can they play their role in political arena of Gilgit-Baltistan to remove above mentioned four hurdles that strangle any movement for political awareness?
The contributor is a Gilgit Based senior journalist and columnist. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org