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20 February 2019

Cheating Gilgit-Baltistan again and again

D J Mattal
The writer is editor of Daily Bang-e-Sahar

Caretaker chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan, Sher Jahan Mir, while addressing an investment conference said final touches were being given to the mineral, tourism, timber and power policies of the region.

He said the main issue of Gilgit-Baltistan was that there needed to be urgent steps to get access to the international market, so that a new era of progress and prosperity can dawn in the whole region. It is a fact that time and again Pakistani rulers based in Islamabad have made claims to make developments in the backward area of Gilgit-Baltistan but none of them has so far been fulfilled in true sense of the word.

A few days ago Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif visited the Gilgit city and made a number of announcements to launch different projects in Gilgit-Baltistan. An impression was given that with the announcement of the prime minister, these projects would be launched that would change the destiny of the people of the region. But the fact of the matter is that even if all these projects are executed as announced by the prime minister, there would be no substantial improvement in the life standards of the people. The memory of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan is not that much short-lived. Before the 2009 elections in Gilgit-Baltistan, the then prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani also made a whirlwind visit to the region and announced similar projects with the tall claims that the PPP government was very serious in bringing revolutionary changes in the life of the people. But about five years down the lane, if you ask even a diehard PPP supporter they would say that none of the projects announced by Mr Gilani could be materialized.

The common people of the region would be justified to reject such claims as there is no improvement in their lives. Is there any improvement in the provision of basic facilities to the masses since the announcements made by Mr Gilani, does laodshedding has gone away or even slighted lessened, unemployment decreased or is there any change in the governance system?

The scourge of corruption has further increased during this period and there is no mechanism to check it in the future either. Keep the big projects aside, does there any increase in the number of PIA flights to Gilgit-Baltistan? Did the government make new hospitals in Gilgit-Baltistan or worked for the provision of clean drinking water to the people of the region. What about merit in recruitment of government employees? Is there any end to the scourge of terrorism or the people have taken a sigh of relief from the sectarian strife? What about the empowerment of the people by enabling the legislative assembly to legislate freely. Can anyone say that the key decisions related to the region of Gilgit-Baltistan are now being taken in Gilgit city and not in Islamabad? 

Five years from now, if someone would go for the postmortem of the promises and claims made by Nawaz Sharif, the answers would surely remain the same and there would be no change in the life of the two million people of Gilgit-Baltistan. The main reason for this is that Gilgit-Baltistan is nowhere on the priority lists of the rulers sitting in Islamabad and nor the region has ever been given a damn by the rulers in the past. Nawaz Sharif very proudly mentioned the mega dams of Diamer and Bunji what can anyone tell us that would be the benefits of these two water reservoirs for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. The reason is that the government of Pakistan is constructing these two dams for providing the urgently needed electricity and water for the country. It is also a fact that Islamabad is building the mega dams in the disputed territory of Gilgit-Baltistan where it has no right to carry such projects till the resolution of the Kashmir issue, of which Gilgit-Baltistan is a big party.

Had the federal government being sincere in resolving the power crisis in Gilgit-Baltistan it could have long ago built the Hunzal dam and also launched work on dozens of other dams to benefit the local people. The government could also have made roads in the mountainous area besides setting up health care centres. Do the government and its paid agents in the region think that by opening a few TV stations the area can be made developed? No these TV stations are also being set up for the benefit of the federal government as it would be using them for propaganda and publicity. And then take note of the caretaker chief minister’s observation that the area needs an access to the international market. What would come out of such an access when you don’t have the right to exploit the rich resources of the region for the benefit of the people? Had the government been sincere in the development of Gilgit-Baltistan, it would have long ago formulated policies and empowered the indigenous people to utilize the resources for their benefit and there would have been no need of any help from Pakistan or any other country as Gilgit-Baltistan would be able to export electricity and other resources. It is time that the rulers stopped experiencing dramas with the people of the region and formulate long-term policies in consultation with the indigenous people for the develop net of the region and exploitation of the local resources. If successive rulers of Pakistan continued to visit the region just before the elections to the legislative assembly after every five years, it would take the area nowhere and the people would remain in the same pathetic condition deprived of all the basic facilities which they have seen for decades.