Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Gilgit Baltistan’s Three Current Issues, DJ Mathal

Gilgit Baltistan’s Three Current Issues, DJ Mathal

Though Gilgit-Baltistan has no representation I the Council of Common Interests (CCI), a few days ago Chief Minister Hafiz Hafizur Rehman very confidently claimed that the issues relating to the area’s shares in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would be raised in the meeting of the CCI. It is beyond our comprehension how the chief minister, who knows very well the system, made such a claim in the first place.

The CCI holds its meeting after long delays even though it has to meet after three months. Provinces are represented in the CCI and national issues are discussed. But as Gilgit-Baltistan is not a constitutional province of Pakistan, it has no representation in it and hence in many major decisions it has no say at the national level ad its interests are compromised. Though Islamabad always says that making Gilgit-Baltistan a province would complicate its policy on Kashmir, there are no hindrances and either making GB a member of the CCI would leave any negative impact on the issue of Kashmir.  But despite making promises with the people of Gilgit-Baltistan to give the area representation in the CCI, the PML-N government is not in a mood to give a consideration to the proposal.

It may be noted that the PML-N had also promised to give representation to Gilgit-Baltistan in the NFC and IRSA. But like many other such promises, these also remain unmet so far. If Gilgit-Baltistan is included in the NFC, there would be no difference on the policy of Islamabad regarding the issue of Kashmir but the backward area would get its share of divisible pools form the federation and the money can be utilized for the development of the area.

But irrespective of the good wishes and sweet promises of Hafizur Rehman, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan should understand it that Nawaz Sharif is not going to make any headway in giving Gilgit-Baltistan more rights of governance powers during his remaining tenure. About seven months ago, the prime minister formed a committee under the head of Sartaj Aziz to come up with proposals to give Gilgit-Baltistan constitutional powers including making it a province of Pakistan. However, after holding a few meetings, the committee seems in hibernation as it neither presented its recommendations to the prime minister nor seems interested to expedite the work. Unfortunately, the attitude of the PML-N does not seem any different from the PPP which kept the people of Gilgit-Baltistan in false promises during its five years of rule. Though chief minister Hafiz has become a shuttlecock between Gilgit-Baltistan and Islamabad and wants the federal government to give all need powers to the area, his requests are not being taken seriously by the centre and the establishment due to unknown reasons.

Even the PM-N government could not fulfil its promise of starting work on the much-awaited reconstruction of Gilgit-Skardu road. Though the chief minister has said that tenders would be floated in march, his words cannot be taken seriously as in the past scores of promises made with the people were never fulfilled. The successive governments both of the PPP and the PML-N have exploited the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and done nothing for the betterment of the people. Instead of doing anything and changing the life of the masses, both the governments have been hands in glove in bringing the people under taxation even though being a disputed territory and out of the geographical and constitutional jurisdictions, Islamabad cannot impose any kind of taxes o the people of the area.  Fed up with the unkept promises of the chief minister, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan have launched a anti-tax movement after rejecting the chief minister’s assurances. Though the chief minister has been doing his best, it is all the federal government to be blamed for the unjustified taxation in the area.

We are of the opinion that the system put in place under the dubious autonomy order of 2009 has not given any tangible powers to the area except crowning some individuals with the titles of chief minister, governor and ministers. They are as toothless as the former members of the erstwhile Gilgit-Baltistan council were. Just changing the name from council to legislative assembly does not make any difference. Today the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan has no more worth of importance than Mehdi Shah had during the PPP regime. Rehman may make scores of claims and promises, his stance is hardly taken seriously in Islamabad where bureaucrats sitting in the Kashmir affairs ministry still call the shots.

When it comes to our national interest, all the key decisions are taken by rulers sitting in Islamabad without even listening to the viewpoints of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Same was done with the area regarding the CPEC project. It was initially stated that two economic zones would be set up in Gilgit-Baltistan under the mega project but when it was probed further it transpired that there was no such plan of the federal government. Last months, some members of the legislative assembly and the chief minister tried their best and even met the president in Islamabad to get some good news but nothing came out of the efforts. 

 It is regrettable that no breakthrough seems to be coming out for the satisfaction of the people regarding three main issues of the region: withdrawal of the illegal tax, ensuring the share of Gilgit-Baltistan in CPEC and construction of the Gilgit-Skardu road. These are the three issues for which a united voice would have to be raised from the platforms of all religious and political parties irrespective of their differences on many other issues.

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