The people of Gilgit-Baltistan have for long been denied full rights as citizens of Pakistan thanks largely to the power games being played in South Asia, particularly the Kashmir dispute. In an effort not to damage Pakistan’s case where the Kashmir question is concerned — GB was part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir while its people fought to free themselves from Dogra rule following Partition — the region’s status has continued in limbo and the question of a complete merger with Pakistan has not been satisfactorily addressed. However, with a young, educated population clamouring for constitutional rights and representative rule, the status quo is faltering, and the state needs to come up with a workable solution that appeals to GB’s people, while at the same time not compromising Pakistan’s position on Kashmir.
Elections in GB were announced for August, but polls have now been pushed forward to October. Considering the political atmosphere in the region, the question of full constitutional representation for GB is likely to be a key election issue. Various governments over the decades have come up with ‘packages’ to bring GB closer to the Pakistani mainstream, and while progress has been made, the people of this geographically stunning and geostrategic region yearn for more — namely full integration with Pakistan. Those who control GB’s destiny in Islamabad must listen to these voices and resolve the region’s issues through democratic means, instead of cracking down and imposing orders in colonial fashion. As it is, nationalist parties are gaining ground in the region and unless GB is given genuine reforms instead of lollipops, the sense of alienation amongst local people may grow. We have witnessed the follies of a rigid approach in Balochistan as well as erstwhile Fata. The region has immense potential economically where its tourism sector is concerned, as well as abundant natural resources, while it is the gateway for CPEC. With a fully representative government, the region can stand on its own with an educated population keen to develop their area. The PTI-led federal government, as well as other parties in parliament, need to come up with a bold, democratic solution for the region. For example, locals resent the fact that the unelected GB Council has more powers than the elected legislative assembly. This anomaly must be rectified while the recommendations of the Sartaj Aziz-led commission, which called for giving GB provisional provincial status, should be implemented.
30 Jul 20/Thursday Source: Dawn.com