GOJAL, GILGIT-BALTISTAN: Last month, Giglit-Baltistan (G-B) experienced significant protests and sit-ins on the call of the Awami Action Committee (AAC), an alliance of several political and religious parties, demanding that the wheat subsidy for the administrative zone, which was withdrawn recently, be restored. After two weeks of a lengthy peaceful protest and sit-ins, the people’s demands were finally fulfilled.
This demonstration, however, was significant for different reasons. It was interesting to note that not a single incident of violence was observed during the protests even though the law and order situation of the administrative zone had been fragile for decades due to sectarian violence and clashes. This protest, hence, showed a different face of G-B. In these protests, people of different background, sects, ethnic and linguistic groups participated alongside each other. It was interesting to note that during the lengthy sit-ins, those belonging to different sects offered their prayers under a single imam. This was unique experience which many termed as a ‘subsidy of peace’ for G-B.
Indeed, the demonstration was not only for the restoration of the wheat subsidy but it was also an opportunity for the people to express their concerns about the unsatisfactory performance of the government. They were expecting that their problems would be solved quickly by having a comparatively empowered assembly. But unfortunately, the G-B Assembly was not able to make any major breakthrough in the past four years in improving the lives of people.
The delay in the restoration of the wheat subsidy exposed the limited power of the government of the administrative region. The G-B government and members of the G-B Assembly are of the view that they do not have enough power under the current empowerment ordinance and hence, they cannot fulfil the expectations of the people.
During the recent visit of the Senate Committee on Human Rights to G-B, the echo of concerns about identity and basic rights was loudly heard. The G-B Assembly members openly showed their concern over the powerlessness of G-B Assembly.
According to assembly members, despite several resolutions and recommendations of the G-B Assembly to the federal government, a deaf ear was turned over the issue. It was also interesting to note that the governors of other provinces are working under the president of Pakistan but in G-B, the governor is working under the minister of G-B and Kashmir Affairs.
It is clear that the people of G-B are awakening and increasingly becoming conscious about their basic rights. But the current political system is not sufficient for them to fulfil their basic rights, therefore they are not satisfied with it. They are raising their voice positively though the media and via peaceful demonstrations to fulfil their demands.
It is the time that the leadership of this country and the civil society thinks seriously about the long pending constitutional issues of G-B that can give a sense of constitutional and political fulfilment to the people of the area.
Muhammad Ali Musofer
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2014.