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27 February 2020

Gilgit-Baltistan: Dangers of decisions without public consent

D. J Mathal
The writer is Chief Editor Daily Bang-e-Sahar

Pakistani rulers have always adopted a policy of rule, pass time and go back about Gilgit-Baltistan. Irrespective of the form of government, democracy, dictatorship, military or civilian, there has been no change in the policy of Pakistan about the disputed territory of Gilgit-Baltistan. Sitting in cozy rooms, wearing three-piece suit or Sherwani, why any rulers in Islamabad would damn care about the masses living among the rugged mountains over six hundreds kilometers away from the capital of Pakistan. Over the last 68 years, the basic social, constitutional  and human rights of the people of the area were so rampantly violated that they have been limited to fighting with their petty day to day issues unable to other matters around the world.

In the days of this slavery, the indigenous people of Gilgit-Baltistan neither could preserve their own unique culture and neither traditions nor they can maintain their identity in the world. None of the successive rulers of Pakistan ever bothered to take notice of the human rights violations and injustices meted out to these human-loving and peaceful people. They never took any tangible step to improve the life standards of the people in the region. The officers sent from Islamabad to administer the area worked as a viceroy and never took note of the plight of the locals and their rights violations. Anyone raising voice for their rights in Gilgit-Baltistan has always been treated as traitor and treated as such. At the local level, the situation is such a pathetic that the citizens neither have the basic facilities of education nor healthcare. Unemployment has created poverty and a starvation-like situation in almost every house. Due to the lack of planning and the sense of responsibility to care for the people, all the government departments have lost public confidence and they don’t have anything for the youths graduating from universities. The mountains which are full of natural resources have been looking for some planning for the exploitation of the natural wealth for the betterment of the masses. The agriculture of Gilgit-Baltistan resembles a very backward and remote village of Punjab. However, the federal government however every allocates a meager amount of money as a budget ostensibly to keep the people of the region happy so that they cannot think of going to an agitation. The irony is however that this meager amount also ends up in the pockets of the corrupt bureaucrats and spent on the luxuries of members of the toothless legislative assembly including the chief minister and the governor of the region. Unfortunately, there is the lack of as serious and trustworthy political leadership to handle the situation in Gilgit-Baltistan keeping in view the importance of the geo-strategically important area. On the other hand, the puppets and opportunist politicians of the region continue pressuring and blackmailing the rulers in order to achieve their own vested interests.

It may be noted that there has been a dominant monopoly of outsiders on the economy of Gilgit-Baltistan at the cost of the local people. Be it the royalty of the Indus or the natural resources and mineral found in Gilgit-Baltistan, the indigenous people have always been deprived of their rights. The people of the area in every elections consider that the next elected representatives would bring relief but unfortunately their expectations have always been dashed to the ground. The project of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is in front of us. The route which would pass on to Pakistan from China bisecting the whole Gilgit-Baltistan would leave behind only environmental destructions and nothing constructive for the inhabitants of the area. This injustice is not new as in the recent past a similar drama was staged in the construction of the Diamer dam and the people were given nothing except dead bodies. Now the people of Gilgit-Baltistan have been pushed to the wall and the CPEC project is being implemented to benefit the cities and even villages of Pakistan through Gilgit-Baltistan is the area which would be affected the most form the mega international project.

The irony is that sometimes Gilgit-Baltistan is declared mini-Larkana and mini-Raiwind and after every five years the masses are hoodwinked to get their votes and then forgotten till the next polls and this practice has continued for decades. One wonders how long this shenanigans with the innocent people of Gilgit-Baltistan would continue and how long they would be kept deprived of their basic rights. Secondly, why these people are always kept in the dark and their important decisions about their destiny are taken in Islamabad and issued through royal decrees.

But time never remains the same always with the passage of time awareness among the people of Gilgit-Baltistan is rising and they are raising voice for their rights and are not in a mood to be befooled any longer. And the vibrant media of the day has facilitated their work of decades to just months through which they can convey their messages and grievances to the larger audience across the globe in no time. But at the same time if the rulers did not need to change their behavior and continued denying the rights to the people, their occupation of the resources of the area would soon become a history. The rulers sitting in Islamabad should not forget the fact that about four decades back they made a similar mistake of denying the people of then East Pakistan and the result came in the form of Bangladesh. Today Bangladesh, according o World Bank, IMF and other international organization, is a far better economy and sound on its path to development and prosperity than Pakistan.

So it would be better for the rulers of Pakistan if they gave first priority to the economic prosperity and development of Gilgit-Baltistan without wasting more time. Secondly, they should understand that any decision taken without taking the people of Gilgit-Baltistan into confidence would be detrimental for the interest of Pakistan itself.