By DJ Mathal
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s one-day visit to Gilgit-Baltistan on the heels of lots of hopes drew sharp criticism from opposition parties who termed it a bid to rig the forthcoming elections to the legislative assembly of the region. The prime minister during his sojourn in the Gilgit city presided over a meeting of the Gilgit-Baltistan Council which passed its annual budget. Later, the prime minister addressed a huge public meeting at the Lalek Jan Shaheed Stadium and announced a number of development projects for the region. He said that his government was making efforts to bring Gilgit-Baltistan at par with other developed areas of the country. He said that the government was also working to exploit the natural resources of the region so that the life standards of the people of the area could be improved. He added that the Pak-China economic corridor project would usher in a new era of progress and prosperity in the whole region. He also promised to provide funds for the development of the fruits trade in the region. The prime minister on the occasion also announced to create four more districts in Gilgit-Baltistan. He also announced to set up university campuses and increase the number of flights to the region to end the communication issues of the area people.
On the key issue of the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan, Mr Nawaz Sharif said that a committee under his adviser on foreign affairs Sartaj Aziz had been formed and upon its recommendations the future of the area would be decided.
All these superficial promises and claims aside, we are of the view that the visit of Mr Sharif would not be any different from that of former PM Yousuf Raza Gilani to Gilgit-Baltistan before the 2009 elections and the sugar-coated promises also resemble that which were made by the former PPP prime minister. Mr Sharif has made many announcements like Mr Gilani but our experience shows that these promises are only aimed at winning votes and then to be forgotten. What is new in the prime minister’s promises now, is there anything that we can rejoin on. About the announcement of establishment of the four new districts, it may be pointed out that two of them, Hunza and Kharmang, had already been announced by the PPP government. The good news that Gilgit-Baltistan would see lots of development after the China corridor project is also an old one and would fail to win any sympathy for the federal government as far as the forthcoming polls are concerned. Saying that the Diamer dam would generate so many thousands megawatts of electricity and resolve the power crisis of Pakistan has also become a cliché now. We would have been impressed had the prime minister inaugurated the actual work at the site and ordered the payment of proper compensation to the displaced people of the area. These all claims are aimed at hoodwinking the people as none of these projects would bring any dividend for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan as they are being launched for the very survival of the people of Pakistan. Take the example of the Pak-China economic corridor project in which non a single representative of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan was taken on board. In the Diamer project, thousands of families and historical sights of the area are destined to be submerged by the water, rather the existence of the people of the area is at stake. When the construction of a dam in Pakistan is taken up such as the Kalabagh dam, the successive governments and the political parties of the country seem on the one page opposing it saying it would submerge lots or areas but when the establishment of a mega dam is proposed in Gilgit-Baltistan nobody bothers even to take the area people into confidence. To rub salt to the injury, a conspiracy is hatched to deprive the area people of the royalty by installing the plants of the water reservoir on the side of the KP province. The simple question here is will there be any difference in the life of the common people of Gilgit-Baltistan after the visit of the Pakistani prime minister. The premier chaired the meeting of the Gilgit-Baltistan Council which has been made to rule the area through the majority representatives of outsiders. The federal government formed the council only to take decisions on important issues by sidelining the representatives of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Three of the main cash earning departments of Gilgit-Baltistan including water and tourism have been given under the control of the council while the rest are with the powerless provincial government and due to the lack of funds their productivity and performance is deteriorating day by day.
The crux of the matter is that gradually and steadily we are losing rights on our own resources and Pakistan very cunningly making an encroachment on our resources as well as our basic rights. It is time that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan realized the gravity of the situation and launch a decisive struggle for the attainment of their basic rights that include the right to utilize their resources for their own good and have the decision making powers. The saga of the Pakistani rulers to come to the area before every sham elections and make announcements to rig the elections should go. The political parties of Pakistan should not be even allowed to play their dirty games in the land of Gilgit-Baltistan and the indigenous people should be free to elect their people as they wish so that they can make decisions based on their free will and betterment of the future generations. If the nation fails to realize the gravity of the situation, our next generations would continue facing the same ugly situation in which we and our forefathers have been for the last over six decades.