Historically speaking, China and Japan are infighting over the five tiny Diaoyu Islands, an area stretching over only seven kilometers in the East China Sea. In the eyes of the rest of the world, this dispute is a trivial one, “signifying nothing”. But for both these economic giants, this seven km piece of land makes their identity and the preservation of this national identity is one of the fundamentals of national interest in political terminology.
The basic need behind this prologue is to mention here that just like these islands are sacred to these economic giants, the rugged but beautiful land of Gilgit Baltistan is embedded in the history of the people of the region. This aesthetic piece of land spreading over 72,000 km is the concrete shape of our identity and our identity is incomplete without it. Besides, in political terms, the geo-strategic importance of GB is an open secret not only for Pakistan and China but also for the entire region from Asia to Europe. The Chinese mega-project of OBOR, with its flagship project CPEC, is termed as the connecting corridor of the world on international media. Let me reveal the fact that neither OBOR nor CPEC is a connecting corridor but the only connecting vein is the Karakuram Highway (KKH), running throughout the region of Gilgit-Baltistan.
The emotional and cultural attachment of the people with the region dates back to the origin of the people themselves. But the self-proclaimed independence of the region by the local heroes of the land on 16 November, 1947 from the Dogra regime, truly increased its importance for the generations to come. Every particle of the soil scatters the smell of the blood of our ancestors and every inch of the land reminds us of the sacrifices of our great ancestors.
Unfortunately, insensitive to the feelings of the people, the Pakistani political tycoons and military doyens had committed blunders and had treated the region as merely an administrative unit of the country, rather than a culturally and a politically sensitive area. In the past, the government of Pakistan, without seeking the consent of the people of GB, has secretly formulated and signed the most notorious Karachi Pact on 28 April 1949 between the Government of Pakistan and the then Government of Azad Kashmir, to govern their mutual relations. In this pact the government not only ignored the representatives of the local people of GB but it also tried to tarnish the identity of the region by signing the pact with the Kashmiri leadership. It speaks volumes about the miscalculations of the Pakistani leadership. Such futile steps of the government hurt the feelings of the people of the region.
More recently, during many consultations and conferences regarding CPEC, the federal government neglected representatives of its own party members of GB. However, the PPP government in the past has tried to introduce some constitutional reforms but the region is still in a constitutional limbo not even being incorporated in the Constitutional of Pakistan. On August 2009, an ad hoc ordinance was introduced by the government of Pakistan called Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-governance Order which is considered as a landmark in the constitutional history of GB.
Thanks to the Chinese interest and CPEC, this land has accumulated some significance and importance on the international scenario but the incumbent government of Pakistan is exploiting the region poorly and myopically. The government seems to be negligent of the humanitarian crisis in GB. Instead of following a proper conflict resolution process, offering constitutional guarantees, addressing the grave issues of corruption, bribery, nepotism and unemployment, the callous provincial as well as the incapable federal government of Pakistan is now following a business approach towards the region. The region is presented to the outer world as a wealth basket or an economic capsule. In this regard, the natives already have voiced their dismay which could not move the Pakistani rulers an inch but Modi with his negative intentions came forward to voice the voices of the people which is a heart wrenching moment for the patriotic people of GB. Adding insult to the injury, some invisible forces have started to kidnap the social activists who started raising their voices for the basic rights of their people. Many Baba Jans and Ramals are reeling in jails for no crime which further infuriates the people. If the states like China and Japan raise their voices for these 7 km Islands of Diaoyu, the GBians consider it their basic right to raise their voices for their 72000 km land. Further negligence and tyranny on the part of the responsible state institutions will aggravate the situation and it will further complicate the already complex situation of the state.
In a nutshell, political, administrative and constitutional reforms are indispensable for the smooth completion of projects like CPEC and other mega energy projects. A single Special Economic Zone in Maqpoon Das cannot neutralize the hazards posed by the mighty transport and other infrastructure. The techno-scientific activities revolving the CPEC project will harm the region biologically, ecologically, culturally and even politically. The tourism industry is on the brink of destruction.
In such a crucial time, the federal government should chalk out some pragmatic policies in collaboration with the local government to define the region politically and administratively. Instead of using their stooges in GB for doing a press conference after being disqualified by the Supreme Judiciary of Pakistan, the federal rulers should respect these stooges as they represent the 2 million people of the region. The federal government should pave the way to ensure the representation of the region in the National Assembly of Pakistan, regardless of its own baseless fears.
The contributor is an Independent Scholar of M.Phil English Literature at GCU Lahore. He can be reached at Abid.firstname.lastname@example.org