Land Reforms in Gilgit-Baltistan
Abdullah Khan Dero
According to the Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE), five percent of the bigwigs possess 64 percent of Pakistan’s farm land, while 50.8 percent rural households are landless.
Fortunately, no feudal system exists in Gilgit-Baltistan, and the land division within families is settled according to Islamic and tribal laws. However, the government of Pakistan possesses a large portion of barren land, and also enjoys the rights on the region’s mountains. In many areas, the mountains have been leased to different companies, too often leaving the natives out of the decision-making process.
The irony is that successive GB governments and economic planners have not been able to establish even a single industry in the region, to be able to transform the natural resources into usable products. Energy crisis and logistic difficulties make establishment of any industry in the region unprofitable. We have even not been able to benefit from the forest rich Diamer District, which exports most of its timber at throwaway prices, instead of exporting finished products at higher profit margins. As a result, GB’s entire economy depends largely on services, tourism and agriculture.
The farming land is gradually lessening because of the expansion of markets, and the population growth, aided by decreased mortality rates, due to relatively better health facilities. The barren lands owned by the government cannot be utilized to produce crop and to grow plants. No serious effort has been made in the past to make these barren lands cultivable by using the region’s immense hydro resources.
In an informal meeting, the president of Pakistan People’s Party GB recently said that bringing land reforms in GB and making the people of region the owners of not only the land possessed by government of Pakistan but also the rights to have their share in the earnings from the mountains is their party’s priority. He further added that according to their proposed reforms any interested bidder willing to acquire the mountains on lease for mining will be a single player of the consortium (bidder, people of the area and the government of Pakistan). The bidder and the people of the area will define the terms on profit sharing and working mechanism while the government of Pakistan will only liaison, guide and ensure execution of the accords and will only be liable to impose tax from the income as per taxation rules.
This seems a charming prospective proposal and will surely help not only boosting the economy of GB but also reduce the burden on government for provision of subsidized wheat. Simultaneously, the current government has also formed a committee to work on a land reforms proposal in view of the increasing apprehensions being shared by the people with regards to their right to ownership of the land.
But could this dream be true while there are already disputes among communities, and tribes to acquire their adjacent lands and meadows?
Will the government of Pakistan (whoever will be the ruling party) be at ease to take such decisions particularly when CPEC is underway and it needs more land for different projects?
Many power bearers have set their eyes on the land in Gilgit-Batlistan due to the promises offered by CPEC. Could they not impede this type of legislation? History bears witness that land reforms were, once, initiated by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in Pakistan but were soon reversed by General Zia and the status quo is intact thus far. And, so is it a pragmatic manifesto or just a rhetoric for luring the voters? Only time can tell.