Marginalizing Gilgit-Baltistan’s Local Economy

By Rehmat Alam

In Gilgit-Baltistan, the provincial government is facing significant backlash for leasing a total of 44 sites, including rest houses, PTDC motels, and forest sites to a company named Green Tourism, a subsidiary of the Pakistan army, at what many are calling a throwaway rate. The properties have been leased for only Rs0.8 million per month for a period of 30 years. The Gilgit-Baltistan government justifies this decision as a means to boost revenue, but this rationale has ignited widespread outrage. The lease agreement includes 17 properties managed by the G-B Forest Department, seven PTDC motels, and 20 properties under the Communication and Works Department, with the latter’s assets, covering an extensive 100,000 square meters, leased for just Rs0.7 million per month.

Locals argue that the properties are severely undervalued, leading to a wave of condemnation from rights activists, religious parties, social media influencers, and members of civil society. They have all vocally opposed the deal, for excluding local investors and called it as land grabbing tactics. Awami Action Committee rejected the policy in a presser and indicated protests if the agreement is not revoked. The controversy has not only raised questions about the transparency and fairness of the financial terms but also sparked a broader debate on resource management, land ownership, and the rights of local communities in Gilgit-Baltistan. Local investors have expressed their willingness to pay more for the leased properties. A local political leader Abbas Moosvi criticized the leasing process, citing the example of land in Rama Astore leased for Rs 633 per Kanal per month, while he offered Rs 6000 per Kanal per month. Moosvi warned that any attempts to lease private land would face strong opposition and would not be allowed to proceed.

Legal and policy flaws 

The leasing process of rest houses and tourist sites to Green Tourism has raised significant legal and policy concerns, appearing to violate several definitions of “The GB Procurement Rules 2022.” Specifically, Definition (f) “competitive bidding among all interested companies to ensure transparency and fairness, Additionally, the process seems to contravene Definition I-(i) coercive practices; (ii) collusive practices, ;(iv) fraudulent practices, and (v) objective practices, all of which are designed to ensure integrity and impartiality. Furthermore, the process fails to meet the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) pre-qualification criterion for leasing property in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). The PTDC legal requirements stipulate that applicant companies must be registered, with at least three years of operational history in Pakistan under the same name and legal status.

However, as reported in Dawn on February 17, 2024, Green Tourism was only registered on January 26, 2024, clearly failing to meet the three-year operational history requirement. Additionally, the commercial requirements specify that applicants must have at least three years of experience in the hospitality industry before the submission of their Expression of Interest (EOI), which Green Tourism lacks. The financial requirements further demand “audited financial statements” from companies operating in the hotel business for at least three years before the submission of the EOI. Given its recent registration, Green Tourism cannot provide such financial records, further disqualifying it from meeting the pre-qualification criteria. These legal and policy flaws raise serious questions about the legitimacy and transparency of the leasing process, necessitating a thorough review and potential reconsideration of the agreement by the Gilgit-Baltistan government.

Policy implications

The people of Gilgit-Baltistan have long awaited a clear constitutional and legal status, a situation deeply rooted in historical, political, and legal complexities. According to UN Security Council Resolution 47 (1948) and subsequent resolutions, the administration of Gilgit-Baltistan should be conducted by local authorities with assistance from the Pakistan government, pending a plebiscite to determine the region’s final status. This framework implies that the management of land and natural resources should be overseen by local authorities and must primarily benefit the local population. It underscores the importance of local authorities playing a central role in governing the region’s resources to ensure that their management aligns with the needs and aspirations of the people living in Gilgit-Baltistan.

However, numerous developments over the years have negated the true spirit of these resolutions. Likewise, the recent development has ignited widespread outrage and is seen as exacerbating the marginalization and trust deficit that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan already feel toward the central government. This leasing arrangement alienates the local population by undermining their economic opportunities and reinforcing their sense of disenfranchisement. The local community views this move as a continuation of the pattern where their interests and rights are overlooked in favor of external entities, further deepening the existing mistrust between the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and the federal government. This controversy underscores the need for transparent and equitable resource management that respects the local population’s rights and aspirations.

To address such issues, the state must revisit its policies towards Gilgit-Baltistan. A more inclusive and equitable approach is essential, one that actively involves local stakeholders in decision-making processes. Policies should be designed to align with the rights and needs of the region’s inhabitants, ensuring that the management of land and natural resources benefits the local population and upholds their right to self-determination as envisioned by the UN resolutions. Only through such inclusive governance can the trust deficit be bridged, and the economic and political aspirations of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan be realized.

The contributor is an M.Phil student at Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad. Email: Rehmat.23@pide.edu.pk


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