Dynamics of Politically Alienated Youth in Gilgit-Baltistan

It is evident from the political dynamics in Gilgit-Baltistan that there is little space for lower- and middle-class youth in politics, as all mainstream political parties in Pakistan continue to exploit and waste their potential

Dynamics of Politically Alienated Youth in Gilgit-Baltistan

"Give the young, O Lord, my passionate love for Thee, and give them an eagle's force to fly and to see"
Allama Iqbal prays to Allah

The youth are the powerhouse of any nation, and their identity and role as citizens are manifest for a nation's prosperity and sustainable future. The proverbial youth bulge has contributed to many developments at the global level in the present, recent past and history of the world. For example, in American civil rights moments from 1946-68, young leaders like then-23-year-old John Lewis led a civil rights march, and his historic speech at Washington in 1963 fuelled civil rights and social justice movements in the USA.

Whether it was the 2014 Umbrella movement in Hong Kong led by students, or Greenham's common peace activism in the 1980s, where young females came to the front and thwarted the installation of cruise missiles that could have brought the world closer to war, the success of any rights movement is dependent on the role performed by the In the northern territory of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), it was during the liberation movement of Gilgit-Baltistan that prominent leader, Col. Mirza Hasan Khan, only 28-years-old at the time, led a liberation force and declared independence from the Dogra Raj, while forcing the surrender of Governor Gansara Singh with the support of local youth and elders. 

Today, the young population of Gilgit-Baltistan has been pursuing cases of identity crisis at all forums, including on the national mainstream media and international news media, through the wisdom reflected in their writings, speech and democratic means. These were the very youth who resisted and denounced black laws such as the FCR (Frontier Crimes Regulation). The quest of Gilgit-Baltistan's youth to pursue democracy is not new; they have been staunchly hoping and struggling for democracy and the rule of law in Gilgit-Baltistan, as other nations do.

Since the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-governance Order was promulgated, a unicameral legislative body with 33 seats (24 elected; six seats reserved for women and three seats reserved for technocrats and professionals) was established, and the designation of chief minister and governor were also granted to Gilgit-Baltistan, like other provinces of Pakistan. But the region remains subject to a United Nations resolution from 1948, which declared Gilgit-Baltistan a disputed territory part of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, whose future will only be decided once the UN holds a plebiscite or referendum. 

The youth of this region are more concerned about their fate and identity; their political participation has not been considerable, rather they are used and being wasted by mainstream political parties such as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), and the Pakistan People's Party Parliamentarians (PPPP) as mere political workers. Their due role in politics has yet to be granted or proclaimed by any political party. Instead, they are only kept on standby, called in to bolster political power shows or rallies, to occasionally chant slogans that spread hate speech in society. 

Youth has been used as a key tool by political parties around the world. Access to the internet and unfettered exposure to global society, without training young minds about the beneficial and harmful uses of technology, as well as sociopolitical hazards in the region in recent years, has only fuelled polarisation, misinformation and hate. Instead of becoming a vehicle for transforming the youth and training their minds for progressive roles in nation-building, modern communication technology is seen as doing more harm in Gilgit-Baltistan. The youth in Gilgit-Baltistan may have become keyboard warriors, spreading hate and using abusive words against one another on political as well as religious subjects.

The political dynamics in the region support a patron-client system where political elites develop entrenched relations with other local influentials and elites. Politicians often exploit religion to get unequivocal support from religious clerics during election campaigns, and after winning such elections, politicians become more concerned about keeping religious clerics on board for every political appointment and even the allocation of development funds. Other than politicians, local elites who own substantial assets such as vast swathes of land, and lend their support and influence to politicians, can be decisive and sometimes mandatory for the latter's success. 

People in Gilgit-Baltistan are also misled on the hot button issues of sect, language, ethnicity, and geography. They are discouraged from using rationality and reason and instead choose the candidate who belongs to their sect, their ethnicity, or their close relatives, and whoever benefits their family more. 

The role of local bureaucrats in this matter cannot be ignored. As in most cases, they join hands with politicians and tactically become the mouthpiece of politicians for petty political interests and appointments. All these elites, forming a nexus with politicians, pave their way into power, and, ultimately, politicians work for the interests of the few at the expense of the rest. It is quite evident from the political dynamics in Gilgit-Baltistan that there is little space for lower and middle-class factions of youth in politics. If any youth is given a political role or public office in Gilgit-Baltistan in any government, then in most cases, it is based on how strong his affiliations with politicians are or on how solid their 'references' are rather than pure meritocracy. 

As per the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement (PSLM) survey, approximately 45% of Gilgit-Baltistan's residents live below the poverty line. In such conditions, motivated and deserving young minds from low-income strata cannot hope to secure a place in the regions' politics. Hence, they fall into the trap of being misled, used, and wasted by political parties for petty political interests. 

It is solely up to the youth to mobilise themselves and objectively study all affairs with deeper understanding, to promote progressive student politics and establish unions where inclusivity should be exercised for males and females with no discrimination for gender, sect, language or ethnicity. Young minds should arrange study circles by collaborating with local scholars who have rich knowledge and experience: men of principle who could lead young minds of Gilgit-Baltistan toward a more prosperous and sustainable future. Youth must also address core issues of the region, like climate change and governance reforms. The youth bulge can be transformed from a menace into an opportunity if utilised wisely and sincerely.

The author studies International Relations at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.