Opinions

Silent Deals, Loud Protests: Extended Form 47-Like Acts

By Zulfiqar Ali Ishaq 

The political engineering began with the strained relations between Militablishment and Khan back in 2022. Gilgit-Baltistan faced similar consequences, as the region was governed by a PTI-led government. Initially, Chief Minister (CM) Khalid Khurshid was disqualified in July 2023 on charges of possessing a fake degree. Subsequently, other PTI members either distanced themselves from the party or allied with the opposition. Haji Gulbar Khan, a forward bloc leader within PTI, then became the CM of the province with the support of PPP and PMLN.

A deep analysis reveals similarities with the general elections of February 8, where winning independent candidates backed by PTI on Form 45 (which reflects the votes of each candidate in each polling station, with a copy served to the candidates) turned losers on Form 47 (which reflects the total number of votes for contesting candidates from all stations). Winners on Form 47 tend to compromise on every issue because they are aware of their precarious position. Powerful circles exploit this vulnerability, and any dissent from those who helped them win via Form 47 often results in dismissal on various charges or no-confidence motions. A similar situation unfolded in Gilgit-Baltistan. The CM and his Cabinet are at the mercy of those who helped them attain power, whether legally or illegally. The covert agreement with the Green Tourism Company further solidifies the position of this dummy government with no real power.

Green Tourism company was established under SIFC (Special Investment Facilitation Council) in February 2024. SIFC was established in June 2023 to attract and boost investments in Pakistan in areas of agriculture, defense, IT, energy, and minerals. The GB government signed a secret agreement with the Green Tourism Company, calling it G2G (Government to Government). In this compact, there were 40 sites, including 7 PTDC motels, 20 C&WD (Communication and Works Department) guest houses, and 17 forest department sites. Along with this, 55 kanals of city park and 450 kanals of Hoto plantation area, 8 acres of land in Phander, along with other sides of the land as well, were transferred to this new agency. 20% of the revenue was to be reinvested, and the government of GB was to get 35%. This would create 300 direct and 3k-4k indirect jobs. When the covert lease-out agreement was exposed, it faced massive criticism from the public. The main concerns include the secret transfer without a tender, resources grabbing, and depriving locals from participation in tourism-based activities. Eiman Shah, Special Assistant to CM GB, and Faiz ullah Faraq, spokesperson of GB govt, claimed these were loss-making institutions. They also claimed the backing of the army was crucial to boost the confidence of private entities. On the other hand, civil bodies and opposition asserted that private entities are already functional in GB, and there is no issue of trust deficit for any investor.

Green tourism claimed the start of a new era of hospitality, empowering locals, and sustainable growth. Split observed even within the cabinet as Education Minister Ghulam Shahzad Agha called for making it public and taking all stakeholders into confidence before finalizing it. He called the transferred lands public property. Home Minister Shams Lon vehemently opposed the transfer of 24 kanals in Rama and Astore, calling it public property. He asked for those behind the company to step forward. Food and Tourism Minister Ghulam Muhammad claimed that the agreement only covered the rest houses and not the land. Leaders of the Awami Action Committee rejected this agreement and called it unacceptable without public consent. The opposition leader questioned how forest and plantation areas that were transferred to Green Tourism were making a loss and why these are included in the agreement against government claims that only rest houses are included. The government was indefensible on the floor; in fact, government ministers preferred to remain absent in assembly debates. The CM made a statement on the assembly floor that no land was transferred to this company other than the rest houses and said that if any secretary had transferred land to this agency, then it was not in his knowledge. Leaked lease-out documents said the other way; land and rest houses were moved to this company with the will of the government and signs of some Cabinet ministers. The opposition vehemently opposed and showed dismay over varying statements from the CM house, cabinet to the Governor house. The CM of GB formed a committee to seek suggestions on the implementation of this agreement. Given that tourism is a primary source of income for local govt., they should focus on empowering locals in this area rather than facilitating any other agency. The opposition, religious parties, and the Awami  Action party also warned of solid opposition if this agreement goes ahead without reaching a consensus among all stakeholders of GB.

Documents on the lease agreement revealed that Green Tourism is a private company, raising questions about how it can be classified as a G2G (Government-to-Government) agreement. No proposals or bidding processes were presented on the floor of the GB Assembly, and neither the opposition nor the public was consulted before the agreement received approval. Reports indicate that around 90-95% of the GB public oppose this agreement. How can the government claim it is for the public? The government deserves punishment for its wrongful actions. If it was aware of such a covert, unfavorable agreement and did not bring it before the assembly for open debate or inform the public through an open bidding process, it is guilty of deliberate wrongdoing. If the government was unaware of the agreement, it is guilty of incompetence and carelessness, and still deserves punishment.

The contributor is pursuing MPhil in IR from NDU. Email: Zulfiqarishaq10@gmail.com, X:@zulfiqar_ali

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