Wed. Feb 1st, 2023

Gilgit-Baltistan: An Arena of Political Unrest

By Ijlal Haider

Gilgit Baltistan has always been a center of political shallowness, lacking mature leadership to carry out the political processes necessary to ensure due rights as sensed by the natives.

GB acceded to Pakistan after liberation from the Dogra Raj in 1947, after fighting with valor and audacity to attain liberation from the outlander occupiers. Gilgit Baltistan was known at that time as Gilgit Agency and until 1972 it was ruled by local Rajas, but Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto introduced a system of government with the reforms introduced at that time.

These reforms were in practice until very recently, when the self-governance order of 2009 was introduced by Pakistan People’s Party to replace the former. This reform changed the name of the region to Gilgit Baltistan, and gave a province-like setup. The most major flaw of the reform was that it offered limited power to the elected representatives of the people. There were feelings of infringement in the people at that time, but they considered the reforms as stepping stones to their ultimate liberation from the shadow of Kashmir dispute, in which the people have been trapped for so long.

Though these reforms provided little or no real power at all to the region, they did unite the locals under the name, Gilgit-Baltistan. These reforms were not suiting the people, and they wanted provisions at par with other provinces of Pakistan.

Last month a presidential ordinance was passed, which was anticipated to be an overall improvement to its predecessor, but GB Order 2018 (the popularized name of the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018) came across as a shock to the people of the region. It was far worse than the previous order, as it negated the basic and fundamental rights of the people, handing all the power and authority to the prime minister of Pakistan, who is not elected by the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, and thus, is not answerable to them.

The GB Order 2018 was perceived as a threat to the identity of people, and people from all walks of life rejected the order in their own ways. The modern youth of the region living temporarily in big cities of Pakistan: Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad, mobilized momentum through awareness sessions and by recording their protest against the order and against the government of GB.

Back in Gilgit Baltistan, Awami Action Committee, known for its undaunted actions against the faulty decisions of the government, whether it was the tax issue or the status quo, was successful in galvanizing the opposition and gathering people in all the districts of Gilgit Baltistan. It managed to organize an enormous protest against the GB order 2018 in the capital of GB: Gilgit. Rallies were recorded across Pakistan against the order, and the Government of Pakistan was urged to repeal the order in the interest of citizens of Gilgit Baltistan.

Prime Minister Khaqan Abbasi was scheduled to visit Gilgit on 27th of May and to address the GB legislative assembly. The people were infuriated by the main-stream media blackout and the behavior of the GB government, and received the Prime Minister with decry and hate. The opposition boycotted the session and tattered the bill in front of the Prime Minister and walked out of the house. People welcomed them with open shoulders and chanted against the order and the local government.

The crux of the problem lies in the fact that GB has an overall improved literacy rate compared to other parts of Pakistan, but it lacks political awareness at large. People, who are politically aware find it difficult to breathe freely and to mobilize others. They usually end up in jails, as did Baba Jan and others, for politicizing and escalating political awareness in the masses.

Pakistani government and establishment has always retained GB in control and in doing so they have developed a sense of disenfranchisement among the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. These acts would have gone unnoticed in the past, but now people are more aware, and ready to mobilize quickly. These movements igniting and developing in the region every now and then are indications that people have seen enough and would not overlook the acts of government from now on.

Despite protests and mass mobilization in the wake of GB order 2018 in Gilgit baltistan and in other cities of Pakistan, the state has disregarded the demands and turned a blind eye towards the protesting people.

It is alarming and will prove to be jeopardous for the state. The state has enforced the “emperor order”, as the new law is known by many pundits of Gilgit baltistan. The aftermath of the order gave a clear picture of an aggravated people who have come to resent officials. The cries of protest are mounting up.

Brawls between officials, local government and masses are almost a daily phenomena. The conflicts are based on a range of issues, including over the Pakistani government’s introduction of web-based one customs (WEBOC) for clearance of goods at Sust dry port. Traders from Pakistan as well china face impasse and are protesting against it. GB high court have granted a stay on WEBOC at sust dry port, but FBR and Pakistan Customs have refused to entertain the stay order. Combined opposition and Awami action committee has demanded from the government to address these issues. Clerics and other leaders are also concerned over the GB order 2018. Traders have declared to the government that they will not permit such actions, and will join combined opposition and Awami action committee, if their demands are not met. Such actions of the Pakistani government can turn the love and patriotism of people into hate and unfaithfulness. People of Gilgit baltistan are very loyal and their allegiance stands with Pakistan, and they have sacrificed enough to be labelled as patriotic and dutiful.

How can Pakistan pacify the sense of deprivation and distress of people of Gilgit baltistan? The answer to this question is not so simple, and big steps need to be taken in this regard. It is time that we accept the fact, that GB is part and parcel of Kashmir issue, and according to UN resolution, Pakistan cannot adhere Gilgit baltistan without Kashmir issue getting effected by it. The easy and feasible option will be to grant GB with a setup like India has provided the Indian occupied Kashmir under article 370 of the Indian constitution, or like that of Azad Kashmir with enhanced power and authority. While the tough call will be to make GB the fifth province of Pakistan, meeting the aspiration of the people of GB. These can be few remedies to the GB crises for now on, but if Pakistan fails to address these issues soon, then it can force people to explore other options as well.

The contributor is a Political Science student at Forman Christian College, Lahore. 

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