Pakistan Still Treats Gilgit-Baltistan As An Anomaly

Pakistan Still Treats Gilgit-Baltistan As An Anomaly
Gilgit-Baltistan willingly acceded to Pakistan in 1947. The government of Pakistan sent Sardar Mohammad Alam Khan to Gilgit-Baltistan as the first Political Agent of Pakistan. Sardar had previously served as a Naib-Tehsildar in the North-West Frontier Province, now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. No local resident of Gilgit-Baltistan was considered competent for the position. The region was ruled through the notorious Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR).

In 1949, without the consent of the people, Gilgit-Baltistan was made part of the Kashmir issue by the government of Pakistan. During Mohammad Ayub Khan’s rule, parts of Gilgit-Baltistan were given to China. This was under the Sino-Pakistan agreement of 1963, which has a provisional status, pending the final settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

During Zulfiqar Bhutto’s rule, in the first half of the 1970s, the FCR was abolished in Gilgit-Baltistan. Mubashir Hasan, an important minister in Bhutto’s cabinet, writes in his book The Mirage of Power that during his visit to the region in 1973, he observed that the government accounts of Gilgit Agency were under the control of the Accountant General based in Peshawar, the provincial capital of North-West Frontier Province. Furthermore, for a very long time GB and FATA had a combined quota in federal government jobs. The Federal Public Service Commission website lists four provincial service commissions and one service commission for Azad Jammu and Kashmir. To date, Gilgit-Baltistan, which was made part of the Kashmir issue does not have a commission of its own. The first university in Gilgit-Baltistan was established in 2002, fifty-five years after the creation of Pakistan and the region still does not have any engineering or medical universities. The first governor of Gilgit-Baltistan appointed in 2009 was a non-local. Until now, no local of Gilgit-Baltistan has served as its Chief Secretary and Inspector General of Police.

The bureaucracy and its haughtiness can be observed from the recent case of an Assistant Commissioner in district Hunza who used derogatory language and closed down a family run restaurant, only because he was not given a discount. Previously in 2018, the Chief Secretary of GB was seen disrespecting a local who was asking for the services of a gynecologist at a local medical facility in the Baltistan region. Besides that, the regular transfer of bureaucrats in different departments is another serious issue that causes problems for service delivery in the region.

In a recent tweet, Ilhan Niaz, a professor at Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad states that between 1994 and 2023, the post of Secretary Education in Gilgit-Baltistan saw 26 changes. Only in the last five years, the post saw 10 changes.

Currently, the lawmakers of the ruling party in Gilgit-Baltistan seem least interested in solving the basic issues of the people, such as providing clean drinking water and clean energy. They prefer attending political gatherings of their party in Lahore and Islamabad. Some political commentators argue that they have become impotent because the federal government, formed through a makeshift alliance of parties, has curtailed their project funds.

The anomalous situation in Gilgit-Baltistan should not be ignored now. The region has been mistreated and ignored for a very long time. It is often deployed instrumentally to portray a soft image of Pakistan by the mainstream electronic media, which chooses not to show the day-to-day issues and hardships of the local people. There is a dire need to address the real issues of the people.

First, constitutional and political rights need to be given to the locals. Gilgit-Baltistan’s representation in the Senate and National Assembly must be ensured. The legislative assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan must be given more powers as an impotent assembly is of no use for the common masses. If the Sino-Pakistan agreement of 1963 has a provisional status, then why does the federal government refrain from making Gilgit-Baltistan a provisional province? GB should also have a share in the National Finance Commission of Pakistan. The next elections in Gilgit-Baltistan should be held with the federal government so that issues between the federal and the Gilgit-Baltistan legislative government do not create hurdles for service delivery at the local level.

Looking at the current political and economic situation of the region, one is reminded of the renowned social scientist Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan, who famously said that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are unfortunate in the sense that they are sitting on gold, yet have to resort to begging.