Islamabad, April 8: Our region was presented to Pakistan on a platter 68 years ago with the hope that the rulers will improve the standards of our lives and develop our region. However, we have constantly been kept deprived by successive governments and our plights have been ignored. So far we are raising our voices against the injustices in a peaceful and civilized manner, but our concerns are falling on deaf ears. The Pak-China Economic Corridor project is unlikely to benefit the Gilgit-Baltistan region. Decisions are being made behind close doors and the biggest stakeholders of the project, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, are not being consulted.
These views were expressed by a visibly charged Wazir Baig, the speaker of the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly.
Known for his blunt stances and fiery outbursts, even against his party leadership, Baig got angry when the organizers of the Pak-China Economic Corridor Council ignored representatives from the GB region. The representatives from GB were neither asked to share their views at the forum, nor was anyone from GB seated prominently on the stage to represent the region’s populace.
Continuing his speech, Wazir Baig said that the thousands of vehicles passing through the GB region will damage the delicate environment. He said that there’s no clarity on how exactly will the Gilgit-Baltistan region benefit from the mega project.
He said that some sectors are conspiring to deprive the GB region by shifting the project’s benefits elsewhere. The Speaker, who is popular as an upright and honest politician, said that the people of GB who have given their land for expansion of the KKH have not been compensated despite of the lapse of almost a decade.
Sensing the biased attitude of the organizers from the beginning, a large number of people from GB present in the audience had raised their voice and started protesting demanding respect for the leaders of GB. The protesters stood on their chairs and started shouting against the organizers for ignoring Gilgit-Baltistan. Under public pressure, the organizers seated the former Deputy Chief Executive of GB Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan at the stage after the noisy protests. He also addressed the gathering and urged the authorities to address the concerns of the people.
Later, again on the demand of the protesters, the organizers called Speaker Wazir Baig to address the forum. Baig started his speech by thanking the protesters for forcing the organizers to allow someone to present GB’s concerns.
The protests, shouting and exchange of hot words, was witnessed among others by the Federal Minister for Planning Ahsan Iqbal, Chines Ambassador to Pakistan Sung Weidong, Baluchistan Chief Minister Abdul Malik Baloch, PCECC Chairman Senator Talha Mahmood, many members of Parliament and representatives of civil society from all provinces.
Caretaker Provincial Minister Qalb-e-Ali, former minister Engineer Ismail, former Finance Minister Muhammad Ali Akhtar, Sarwar Shah, Haji Gulbar Khan, Zarmast Khan, Maulana Attaullah Shahab – member of the GB Council, Raja Shahbaz Khan, Dr. Muhammad Zaman (PTI leader) and a large number of other leaders and activists were present.
No clarity on how Gilgit-Baltistan will benefit
“The people of Gilgit-Baltistan are afraid that the trade with China will be monopolized by large investors from outside the region and they will not be able to play any significant role”, Abid Suhail, a university student said in Islamabad. He said that the trade on KKH is already controlled by people involved in smuggling and the locals are fearing a repeat of the same scenario in the future.
Critics say that by not consulting the region’s leadership and by not seeking confidence of the region’s people, the previous and current federal government have created doubts among the locals.
Gilgit-Baltistan not part of the decision making process
“Unlike the rest of Pakistan, the people of GB are not represented in any constitutional forum in the country where policies are being made”, said a young activist, Ahmad Ali. He said that while other provinces and regions are represented in the parliament, the Council of Common Interest and the National Finance Commission, the people of GB are completely deprived of representation in these constitutional bodies, and thus they are unaware of the decisions being made for their region. He added that the outpouring of anger by senior leaders and youth at such an important forum is a reflection of deepening mistrust and indicative of gap between GB and Islamabad.