This morning, I saw an online picture of Mirpur in Pakistan Administered Kashmir. In the picture two marble covered and fenced graves were sunk and only the upper halves of the tombstones were visible. Kashmiris were crying against the raising level of Mangla Dam. At the onset, they had even opposed the construction of dam on their soil to benefit Punjab. Today, this cry is the outcome of the policies of exclusion; the denial of royalty and net profit of power generation in this case. The fate of Diamer-Basha Dam will not be very different; another case of exclusion and denial.
The Gilgit Baltistan Governance Order of 2009, among many inherently intentional flaws, does not provide financial and economic empowerment to the people of Gilgit Baltistan. Neither does it involve the local people in policy making with respect to major subjects, such as international trade, mineral wealth, water resources, tourism, etc. The proposed economic corridor to China has raised many challenges for the deprived people of GB. No doubt, there could be some opportunities as a trickledown effect; a collateral benefit, like the opportunity of access through Karakorum Highway and the ease in communication. However, without the involvement of locals in policy making and showing respect to their sociology, these projects will bring enormous threats. Same will be the case with other mega projects in the region.
The so-called representatives within this powerless system have neither the appetite nor the capacity to embark on policy making. During last sixty seven years, especially after the upraising of 1971, a class of tamed ‘politicians’ have been crafted who have always extended support to the colonial system locally and has hoodwinked its own people in the name of religion and patriotism. In fact they have collaborated with the rulers in breeding sectarian prejudices, corruption and misleading political notions. This has developed political apathy among the masses who rightly do not feel any sense of ownership and belonging for the existing system.
Izhar Hunzai, in his recent article Community Governance at Local Level; A game changer in Gilgit-Baltistan, has rightly highlighted this vacuum and apathetic state of affairs. But the issue is to give solutions and building an environment of realization. Pro-people policies can be brought forward only through genuine political action and strengthening civil society by inculcating the sense of ownership among the citizens over their resources and opportunities. This breed of home-grown politicians and representatives can be expected for an original thinking only. For this our intelligentsia needs to come out of its intellectual poverty.
To say no to the copycat-styled non-local politico-religious affiliations, we need an original thinking. Basis for such thinking is aptly available in the culture, traditions and customary patterns of our society. It is only then that we can move forward towards real empowerment rather than demanding and begging.
Sultan Madad is a political firstname.lastname@example.org