Will Imran change the status-quo in Gilgit-Baltistan
The party ruling Islamabad has consistently been able to form a government in Gilgit-Baltistan as well. While the region was not mentioned in the first 100-days priority document of the PTI, it was included in the party’s election manifesto after some local PTI workers raised objections, and now it remains to be seen how this new party handles the situation when they come to power
By: Noor Pamiri
Imran Khan is the de-facto prime minister of Gilgit-Baltistan. This is despite of the fact that there were no elections in the former ‘northern areas’ of Pakistan. Khan, therefore, is our unelected Prime Minister; we don’t have the luxury of electing or rejecting him, irrespective of whether we love or hate him.
Imran Khan, however, is not the first prime minister imposed on Gilgit-Baltistan; all heads of governments and state during the last 74 years have ruled us without getting our votes. It is for this reason that some local groups look at Gilgit-Baltistan as a region which is effectively being ruled as a colony.
Is Imran Khan to be blamed for this injustice? No. He is new in the corridors of power. Shall he be blamed, among others, if the status-quo vis-à-vis Gilgit-Baltistan’s identity continues? Yes. Indeed.
In the past, the parties ruling Islamabad have consistently been able to form a government in Gilgit-Baltistan also. If the past is any clue, then PTI is most likely to form the government in Gilgit-Baltistan, whenever the elections are held.
Gilgit-Baltistan was not mentioned in the first 100-days priority document of PTI, but it was included in the party’s election manifesto after some local PTI workers raised objections. The PTI manifesto promises to give ‘autonomy’ to the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly, which thus far is a toothless regional elected body, with no significant legislative powers.
The powers of the toothless assembly were further curtailed in the newly promulgated Government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018. The “Order” was suspended by the Supreme Appellate Court of Gilgit-Baltistan, but again restored very recently by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Under the new law, the Prime Minister has obtained imperial powers over Gilgit-Baltistan; he is not answerable to the region’s courts, he can annul any law passed by the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly, and he will enjoy complete immunity for his actions in the region.
Massive protests opposing the GB Order 2018 were ignored by the PMLN govt, and by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Will PTI listen to the objections of the residents of Gilgit-Baltistan, and address their concerns? Only time can tell.
In the past, successive democratic governments and military regimes have used the metaphoric carrots and sticks to tame Gilgit-Baltistan, by either increasing development funds, or by imprisoning and harassing vocal political activists. As of today, 128 people are being ‘watched’ by the intelligence agencies under 4th schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Many of these people being treated as potential terrorists are vocal, disobedient, political workers. More than a dozen activists, lawyers, and journalists are languishing in various jails, simply for not toeing the line.
The carrot-stick policy has created an illusion of effectiveness so far; there is no powerful centrifugal movement in the region, despite of the decades of willful neglect and oppressive governance. All seems OK, and the bureaucrats, and their local lackeys, will try to tell Khan that all is well, but it is not.
Will the policy of treating the Gilgit-Baltistan’s public as subjects, not citizens, work in the long run? I don’t think so. Tens of thousands of educated, young, politically aware, and very vocal residents of Gilgit-Baltistan can no more be charmed with shallow jingoism.
The manifest dissent, expressed through protest demonstrations against imposition of taxes, attempts at withdrawing subsidies, and the efforts to acquire land for different projects, shall serve as a wake-up call for Imran Khan, and PTI, who has come to power to restore ‘justice’. Khan needs to realize that the ground politics in Gilgit-Baltistan has changed significantly. Slogans that were once considered to be solely the voice of the ‘fringe’ nationalist movements have now been adopted, internalized, and popularized by federalist parties, like PPP and PTI. Both federalist parties are trying to woo the voters by raising questions about ownership rights of the region’s land and other resources. Ironically, both parties are seeking “Haq-e-Hakimiat and Haq-e-Malkiat”, or the right of self-governance.
PTI’s promise of reforming the governance mechanism in Gilgit-Baltistan, giving ‘autonomy’ to the assembly is positive. Similarly, the promise of giving “solid opportunities” to the region in CPEC is also interesting.
PTI can start by forcing the GB government and the NHA to pay the locals whose lands have been used for construction and expansion of the main CPEC-KKH road, but who have not been compensated so far. Also, PTI should ensure that Gilgit-Baltistan gets full benefits from the Optic-Fiber connection, which has been laid from Kashgar to Rawalpindi already. These will be minor tests of PTI’s commitment to the development of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Eventually, we will be able to see, and assess, if the party has the will and the autonomy to address the issues of Gilgit-Baltistan’s constitutional status and identity.
Imran Khan, and his advisers, need to understand that Gilgit-Baltistan’s fundamental issue is not economic. It is constitutional. It is about the identity of the region’s 1.5 million people, and their right to own and rule their land.
Published in Daily Times, August 12th 2018.