Thu. Nov 26th, 2020

Building perspective for the Constitutional Struggle in Gilgit-Baltistan

By Zagum Ali Mubbashir

There can be discerned a sudden and rejuvenated interest in the debate surrounding the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan but one cannot turn a blind eye to the people who are pretending to be the avant gardes of this regional awakening. From formerly dormant educated elite to the Politicians of different political parties everyone is jumping in the debate of what should be the future status of Gilgit-Baltistan and how should this long-standing issue be resolved. This is an encouraging development as the people have finally begun to realize the importance of political status and constitutional identity. With elections lingering on the head Political parties have stepped up the campaign but this time with a different flavor of slogans mostly revolving around the constitutional status. It can be observed that the self-interested politics of past is dying away and is giving rise to a shift of paradigm which mostly surrounds around the constitutional rights. The narrative of constitutional rights has been strengthened by the educated middle-class of the region whose only medium of catharsis has been the social media including facebook, twitter and press-conferences. It is the rise of this educated class that has succeeded in sensitizing the common masses about the issues pertaining to identity and constitutional orphanage. With all these developments going around it is very important to analyze the role of this educated elite thereby elaborating the pitfalls to national consciousness!


This is an encouraging development as the people have finally begun to realize the importance of political status and constitutional identity


What needs to be done?

The whole debate regarding constitutional rights and identity is devoid of any strong ideological foundation thereby leaving greater chances for the movement to wither away at the latent phase.  What needs to be done is to give a clear cut program of action, delineating the charter of demands and the course of action that will be taken to achieve it. One can draw much needed lessons from the recent upsurge of Awami Action Committee and its line of action. The movement that initially erupted in the wake of wheat subsidy withdrawal subsequently gripped the whole region and drew the common masses almost from every stratum of the society. Divided on sectarian lines and fractured on ethnic, one could not even imagine that the people of region showed such unity. While the reasons of this unprecedented solidarity may be numerous but the reasons of the success of AAC were obvious: first AAC had a clear cut charter of demands appealing to the very sensitivities of people. Second there was a semi-structured, yet a very responsive and erudite leadership which left no qualms in their theoretically stated goals and practical action. Reconciliation on the basic objectives was put entirely out of the equation and the movement soon culminated in its logical conclusion.

There can possibly be two lines of actions that can be followed in order to guide the nascent and scattered movement that has emerged in Gilgit-Baltistan regarding constitutional status. The actors would different according to their roles. The immediate and pressing issue is to clear the fuss that is going around the debate of constitutional status. A strong, unanimous and crystal clear charter of demands should be framed and the narrative of constitutional identity should be rubbed-off from the radical and secessionist voices. It would not only help garnering the support of few but powerful local people who are sitting at the top echelons of Pakistan’s Federal services rather would be welcomed by the outsiders who have sympathies associated with the region. This task can best handled by the educated elite of region including Historians and literary figures who command deep understanding of the issue and have been vocal in sensitizing the people in past. The confusion and misunderstanding of the issue will not only put it to the back-burner rather it will land all the debate in the hands of undesired politicos whose only interest in the issue is to gain political mileage only within the tall claims and rhetoric. The present contours of the issue are highly bewildering. It oscillates between the provincial status and autonomy setup like Azad Jammu Kashmir. Adding to this difficulty are the fallacies that have been committed in historiography. One can’t find a reliable and objective history of the issue thereby leaving it so much complex that even an educated native will be unable to understand and draw conclusions. It is what Ayesha Jalal has rightly said that “Memory, myth and might are triumphantly parading in the realm of historical scholarship[1]” and Gilgit-Baltistan is no exception to that.


The immediate and pressing issue is to clear the fuss that is going around the debate of constitutional status


The second and most important line of action is to realize the theoretically stated goals into meaningful and pragmatic action. While the historical experience tells us that movements are won not by personalities but by the ideology and the program behind it; it would be highly dependent on how coherent and strong charter of demands are framed by the people of Gilgit-Baltistan for their future. Italian Political Theorist Antonio Gramsci is very relevant to this debate. In his distinction between “Wars of maneuver and Wars of Position” [2] Gramsci illustrates the subtle strategies that are pre-requisite of winning the movements. Gramsci holds the view that when objects and symbols become the meaning of struggle it becomes very difficult for the ruling classes to accentuate the oppressing regimes. It is by this war of position that a meaningful and desired result of an uprising can be anticipated. While it is hard to delineate the social classes of Gilgit-Baltistan in strict Marxist terms but the line of action that seems most logical and convenient at this stage is to sensitize the common populace about the issue and bringing them under one platform or charter of demands upon which all the sections agree. Finally a cohort of erudite, street-smart mass leaders, clear on their agenda, would become very instrumental in giving a much needed momentum to the struggle of constitutional rights.

Can we trust Politicos?

The simple answer is no. there can be seen few of the former Legislative Assembly members and a bunch of fresh entrants in politics who are much vocal about the issue of constitutional orphanage these days but they seem to forget that it were they who reaped benefits, perks and privileges of the status-quo during the last five years. While the elections are hovering around it is convenient time for them to play on the nationalist turf and thereby giving a decisive blow to the constitutional cause. The entry of PML-N in the next government would not only be fatal for the struggle of constitutional rights rather it will keep on lingering the issue for times to come. History is testimony to the fact that, PML-N has always been laggard in its attitude when it came to the social and political development of Gilgit-Baltistan.

PTI’s sudden rise is welcoming for the region and If Imran Khan showed some resolve and seriousness about the upcoming elections in Gilgit-Baltistan, PTI would not only end up with few seats in the assembly but would also be a check-mate on central government’s high handed policies. But the question that remains is; How and in what way PTI intends to resolve the lingering dispute of seven decades, Does it have any program and line of action? Is it ready to wage what Gramsci calls as the “War of Position”?
Only time will answer these questions.

[1] See Ayesha Jalal: Conjuring History

[2] See Gramsci’s Prison Notes.


Zagum The writer is a visiting faculty and Research scholar in Government College University Lahore. He can be reached at zagum@khudipakistan.com  


 

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