GILGIT: (PR) The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP)’s annual report on the state of human rights in 2020 notes with concern that, despite the long-standing demand that Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) be made a constitutional part of Pakistan, the territory remained a de facto administrative unit, its citizens deprived of the right to political representation in the National Assembly and Senate of Pakistan and other policymaking institutions. Additionally, GB’s judicial system remained under the control of the executive pillar of the state and appointments continued to be made on a political basis.
In common with the rest of Pakistan, GB struggled to counter the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak in 2020, which led to job losses for daily-wage labourers, caused education at all levels to come to a standstill, and put severe strain on the healthcare system.
A key development in 2020 was the joint sit-in in Hunza by the families of political prisoners and the Asiran-e-Hunza Rehayee Committee in October, following which the caretaker government and leaders of the committee agreed that the political prisoners would be released on bail. Subsequently, all the prisoners in question—including the incarcerated leader of the Awami Workers Party (AWP), Baba Jan—were released.
Regrettably, the misuse of anti-terrorism laws—a trend observed consistently by HRCP over the years—continued in 2020, with youth, rights activists, journalists, political workers, and nationalists monitored regularly under Schedule Four of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997. Rights activists continued to allege that Schedule Four was being used to stifle political dissent during the year. In one notable case, Irfan Haider John, a nationalist political worker, was warned by the local administration to curtail his social media and political activities after he had hosted Mohsin Dawar—a leader of the Pashtun Tahafuz Movement and member of the National Assembly.
HRCP’s report also notes that instances in which local journalists were threatened or intimidated by state or non-state actors appeared to have increased in 2020.
Elections for the GB Legislative Assembly were held on 15 November. Although the polling process was largely peaceful and orderly, HRCP was concerned to learn that independent election observers—including its own team of observers in four cases—were not allowed into polling stations in the city of Gilgit during the vote counting process. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf formed the new provincial government in GB. HRCP’s report notes, however, that the absence of local bodies since the last elections in 2009 has scuttled the emergence of leadership at the grassroots level, explaining why the election for the GB Legislative Assembly in 2020 witnessed a large number of candidates.