Community Governance at Local Level; A game changer in Gilgit-Baltistan

Izhar Ali Hunzai

We need to reform the current corruption-ridden and inefficient local government system in GB, which is a legacy of colonial rule, top down and outmoded. We need a new local government system, which is for the people, of the people and by the people. We need local governments that deliver all ‘public-community’ services in a professional, cost-effective and well-regulated manner. Today, UC system is the tail end of a large public sector corruption machine, but it can be reformed and made more effective, and responsive to community needs and aspirations. The question is how to change it? I have a game plan!

Crowdsourcing politics to improve it

The game plan is to change the mind-set, and crowd in highly educated young professionals, business and community activists and leaders, to take over local government through UC elections. At present, UC elections are viewed as low-end politics, and not worth contesting by the educated class. We can change this and use UCs as political nurseries for our leaders of tomorrow. If a large number of new leaders contest next local government elections, this November, they can sweep these non-party based election. This will give us a head start in reforming and reinventing UCs as true ‘community governments,” filled with highly educated and professional young leaders accountable to their local constituencies.

Right now UCs are being left to traditional influence peddlers, such as petty contractors and numbardars, who are trained to front for institutionalized corruption. We want to change this and bring in IT specialists and engineers, economists and planners, community activists, youth leaders and entrepreneurs and environmental specialists, both men and women, to clean up this mess and upgrade our politics, closet to our communities.

First step in taking control of our own destiny

An upgraded UC level platform gives us an opportunity to prepare for GBLA level elections, and field competent candidates to run for all competitive elections, public positions and leadership slots in GB government, and at the national level. By attracting best talent and technical experts from every field, we are ensuring high professionalism and accountability, and good governance. These good practices can then easily replicated at district and GB government levels, through public awareness and grassroots networking. This is the only way to get a critical number of new generation leaders, including women, without which we are never going to make a real difference.

Community governance 

UCs current play a very minor role in local development, and it is not just because of lack of public money but also lack of capacity and imagination. In terms of funding local government budget is half a billion rupees, enough to give RS 37 lac to each UC in GB in annual budget. But the average budget a UC gets is around Rs 40,000, after deducting all administrative overheads. Interestingly, everyone knows, accepts, and expects that things will not change. This is a collective failure and a social mindset problem.

What we need is a highly devolved self-governance system at the UC level, that is built on the strengths of local communities and responsive to their needs. Rs 37 lac is good enough money to leverage and raise further resources to provide better services to local communities. UCs can work with civic initiatives, such as community institutions, such as LSO and business, youth and environmental organizations, etc., and unleash an open source development process.

We can also integrate centuries old good practices in common resource management and local governance, such as risk and labor sharing, community sanctions, community infrastructure development and water management and conflict resolution. We can formalize and professionalize and transfer many common tasks, traditionally performed by local communities, such as repairing irrigation channels, and building infrastructure, health and education services, social protection, disaster preparedness, insurance, agricultural inputs and services.

UCs can form a GB wide network and have a larger influence on higher political institutions, and continue to enhance and expand services, through utilizing public funds in a transparent manner, but also mobilizing community resources and donor funds to build hydropower, water and sanitation, and solid waste management projects, to sponsor community schools, training centers, and promote ECD and daycare services to uplift rural areas. This has not happened so far, because government and community are considered as separate worlds, and this perception must change now.

We can upgrade our local government system through democracy, merit and local accountability. A Modern, Progressive and Inclusive Polity in GB must be our destination.

Izhar has served as the GM/CEO of Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP. He has extensive experience working  with community organizations in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral .

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  1. IAH’s write up reflects true picture of the current practices and future direction in evolving a merit based people friendly local government system which is most needed and desirable. Lets hear from young people…. comments , observations please.

  2. MD is right! This is a great opportunity for young and educated people to start a noble career, and learn practical politics and gain experience for larger roles in future

  3. I totally agree with IH.. If we want to bring real change in present political system we need to strengthen the institutions at grass-root level.. I mean at Union Council…I appeal to young educated youth of GB to come forward and support the idea of Izhar and contest the elections…if we succeed to bring educated and motivated youth in to local government fold this will be a real game changer. Although, time is too short but I still request Izhar to further elaborate on this concept in shape of small booklet so that we distribute and motivate the youth to come forward as educated and motivated leaders as you said to take larger role in future…

  4. Hats off Izhar Sir, what a timely call for social and political change! The infusion of political ideals at grass roots level through community governance is need of the time. The ultimate goal of such a political model has to be the progress and development of communities and societies at large – to develop an environment in which every individual voice is heard; and to foster a social system based on human dignity and enterprise,equity and justice.

    The way politics is conducted in our country negates the very ideals of constructive politics that has gave way to more problems than solutions. The system favors the powerful and torments the vulnerable with troubles of life time.

    The solution is to go back to the basics and start from the grass roots. Inculcate the culture of inclusive politics right at the bottom and build a pyramid of cohesive, integrated yet flexible and effective system of political order that delivers according to the needs and aspirations of its people.

    Fortunately in Gilgit Baltistan, greater enthusiasm and passion exists to materialize such an ideal. Our youth and educated masses have the capacity to embark on such a venture. Time to act is not far away from us. Although, building a political process is a continual struggle, but it has to start somewhere and that crucial first step is all it takes. Lets bench mark the local body elections in November as the start of a new political era in the history of our region.

  5. Izhar shb

    This is a great initiative, and the need of the time. For long we are talking on the sidelines of politics and governance (through social actions on ground) with the conclusion that social and economic development needs political action, which is missing. However, the

    key question still remains; who will bell the cat?

    We hope, with your experience, education, knowledge and above all commitments to serve the people and to realize the dreams of the thousands, you will enter the arena to lead and organize the people in these times of political inaction and rampant corruption of polity and society.

    Chairman Mao once said, ‘Not to have a correct political point of view is like having no soul. .. . And “Political work is the life-blood of all economic work. This is particularly true at a time when the social and economic system is undergoing fundamental change”.

    We are still living in a feudalistic society, which is reinforced by colonial kind of politico-administrative structure. The GB chapters of the federal political parties, like their central parties, have no ideological and political education to really reach out to young men and women, farmers, wage laborers, students and intellectuals across sectarian and regional divides.

    The unhealthy tendencies that have appeared over the decades, party leadership and activists seem to think that there is no longer any need to concern oneself with political ideology or with the history and future of our people, our land, and the universal values of mankind. The only credential, they feel is enough, to identify ourselves to be a shia, a sunni, ismaili or norbakhshi, or for that matter, a Balti, Gilgiti, Astori, chilasi, Punyali, Nagari, Yasini, Gojali or Hunzai. The only political work visible is to do anything as political parties to strengthen these identities through either joining the nexus of politician-bureaucracy-contractors or using religion do arm-twisting tactics to get personal benefits and benefits for their group of voters.

    This has been our modern outlook and narrative of politics and political change in Gilgit Baltistan.

    To counter these tendencies, we must strengthen our ideological and political work based on universal human ideals and values of peace, pluralism, justice, equity and equal opportunities for all.
    The interested youth, especially students, teachers and intellectuals should study hard through study circles, group discussions and accessing state of the art knowledge that is easily available now a days through internet. In addition to their formal education, courses and degree subjects, which are important, they must update their knowledge both ideologically and politically, which means that they should study political economy, history, politics, and governance systems and update themselves on current affairs.

    There is a need for new and fresh thinking and to foster new breed of political activists, organizers, leaders and ideologues. Old wine, in new bottle is not going to work.

    You have shared your vision, and found a right focus to reshape politics and economy bottom-up.There is a need for entering into a new social contract between the communities across the divide in Gilgit Baltistan through creating progressive alliances of organized, politically aware, youth and intellectuals, who are locally organized into progressive local action groups, engaged in political analysis, education, awareness raising and local actions. these local action groups are elected, and form alliances at UC and district levels, and further evolve through district and GB level conventions and dialogue and political action forums.

    We look forward to your creative engagement in the GB context with people who share the values and ideals of local and devolved government at UC levels, ideals of grassroots democracy, peace, justice, pluralism and inclusive society and polity

  6. Agree….we hope that in the coming election…the educated youth will definitely give their entry into politics at union levels…Particularly, their interest in the politics appears to have risen…as observed in the recent election of Pakistan….

  7. Very good idea Izhar Sahib. Unfortunately our devoted and motivated youth is kept away from participating in these matters. Things will never change unless educated, devoted, motivated youth is encouraged to come forward and take active part in local governance. Only this way we can expect some change otherwise things will continue moving in same direction. I am all out with your suggestion and ready to play my part where needed.

  8. Well, I agree with all points raised in the entire article and its core message. Adding to it, I would like to say that actual reason behind depoliticized educated elite is behavioural barrier -the notion that educated ones are supposed to get either into bureaucracy or grab a lucrative job in private sector otherwise, they will be perceived as less respectable and less successful and politics and entrepreneurship are for less educated.

    We need to develop some organization or advocacy group that will first of all encourage young minds to pursue politics overcoming the said barrier and second provide them with necessary financial, moral and logistical support to contest elections.

    Let suppose, there is a graduate holding a highly prestigious degree in hand, who wants to participate in UC level elections. He will face stiff social and behavioural resistance if he tries it all on his own, whereas if some successful professional with some great credibility and popularity among masses like Sir IZ himself, or someone else like Nazir Sabir, backs the aspiring contestant, then people will accept him more.

    In this way, the behavioural problem can be overcome.

  9. As a social scientist you have depicted the society and politics in well manner. As far as youth is concern when they become a part of corrupt system they also loose their credibility and self conscious. Hardly Five percent people cast their vote on merit 95 % votes are associated with some type of affiliation whether this will be religious, party, relationship or regional bases. Mr. Amin baig has rightly remarked that we need to demolish these types of idols that create fences and hate ness amongst GBIANS. My suggestion would be to streamline the systems through influencing or educating by intellectuals. As example Election commissions need to ensure that the candidate whether he is contesting for union, district or MNA should fulfill the basic requirements of constitution like sadiq and amin. All public should invite to record complaints against these candidates about their past. If any candidate has not performed well or committed corruption he should declared disqualify. In case of qualifying candidates there should be a strong body of civil society to ensure monitoring of his accountability and fairness in his daily routines. Even than a candidate should provided chance to convince the mass about his services and transparency in his daily routines. It is not necessary to having Ph.D degree for all MNAs but at least they should be an honest and trustworthy person where he or she could not compromise with principles. It is need of hour to issue a declaration regarding achievements and failures of concern political leaders in the area. This can be done only by civil society forum that need to develop at district as well as GB level. Social scientists and retired professionals are requested and expected to help the Govt honest and committed authorities to strengthen and streamline the systems through establishing civil society forums.

  10. I have gone through all above statement and comments inked above by some of the well educated people i know from this area.
    what i have in my mind is that, if we agree on the point that youth can change the future and current situation of the society. then as a student let me tell you i have met lots of such young graduates of the local universtiy who are willing to participate in the upcomming UC ellections. i don,t wana list up their name but still am sure i have list of those people who are ready to stand. am here to ask a question from all those educated people who are aware of the current situation of the local politics. are they ready to support those young youth or as ussual they will spoil their vote or will cast it on the base of region, cast relgion bla bla blaa….

  11. If we look in to our GB history, there is always a new system with new Government in the Capital, why is that? Answer is simple we are not included in the Constitution of Pakistan? System can be only effective if we are included in the mainstream politics of the country through Constitutional cover? All the components of good Governance are already present in the current System e.g , Accountability, Transparency etc everything is there, but the problem is implementation? A population cannot develop until there is equal ground for all. In GB for last two decades there is no parallel development, due to which balance is lost in the society.
    We all know Local Government is very excellent for the local people, but it has to be done with complete genuineness otherwise it will introduce another hurdle for the local people. We have seen this during last military regime in our country.
    National Reconstruction Bauru (NRB) was established for local Government to bring positive change at grass root level but due to lack of sincerity and genuineness, system was never effective.
    Bringing in new people will never make any differences until we make correct efficient, effective system first.
    I agree with IH, highly educated people should be encourage for the coming Local Government elections, but my question is where is effective independent GB elections commission for local Government? without that, like IH said traditional influence peddlers, such as petty contractors and numbardars, who are trained to front for institutionalized corruption will take the show again.

  12. It so profound of his highness Sir Izhar to at last get time to talk about the wellbeing of the area. well after so many years in the NGO business now want to get a chance in Politics, So great of you, although you did not mentioned the desire for that but eventually you will land
    I beg of all you EX, CEO, Directors , Militory Peoples , MDzzz to please let these poor people live in peace . Thank you

    Copying few international concept on social media will never make anyone a social scientist, or will give them the right to talk about the need of the People.
    Just want to ask to all those ” what contribution they have till this day towards the community who have been around them for a long time … Well NONE …. So Just Stop and enjoy your PIE

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