PMLN’s political suicide in Gilgit-Baltistan
By Irfan Ali
Some of the religio-political parties in Gilgit-Baltistan are demanding annulment of the provincial caretaker cabinet for being non-representative, biased and unbalanced.
True. But demands to change the already notified caretaker provincial cabinet will cause religio-political rifts in the Region. The parties who have reservation in the mechanism, for selection of the cabinet members must tolerate and remain silent for the Peace of the Region.
Of Course, it goes without saying that the incumbent government in Islamabad is completely disconnected from the indigenous dynamics of Gilgit-Baltistan. No doubt, people objected to the previous provincial government of Pakistan People’s Party for being corrupt and incompetent, but in reality the party has given a lot to our region. Bhutto in 1972 visited the region and set the people free from the clutches of “Rajgi-System”. It must be clear; I am neither a “Jiyala” nor have any type of affiliation with PPP nor an admirer of the party, but, truth speaks itself.
ZAB annulled the notorious Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) and also empowered the region by creating the Northern Areas Legislative Assembly. Later on, in 2009, Pakistan People Party once again empowered the region by introducing the “Gilgit Baltistan Self Governance Order 2009”, and granted a “province-like status” to the region and also gave identity and name, “Gilgit-Baltistan” instead of Northern Areas, which was an arbitrary direction.
On the contrary, PMLN also ruled the country for three terms, but did nothing for the betterment and progress of Gilgit-Baltistan. If the party would have done something, the way PPP had done, we would happily reckon them one by one.
Gilgit-Baltistan is a very difficult area to administratively control, like rest of the country. The region is not mountainous, unlike most parts of the four provinces of the country. The rusty and remote mountainous valleys demands for small districts and Tehsils. It is very difficult for one Deputy Commissioner, District Education officer or Health Officer to control and facilitate the whole district because of logistics and geographic hurdles, especially during the long winters. That is why; the last provincial government divided District Skardu into three Districts i.e. Kharmang, Shigar and Skardu. However, the federal government led by PMLN remained heedless to materialize the plan. Despite of the fact, that, Baltistan Region is almost half in terms of population and area in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Astore became a separate District; it was divided from Diamer during Musharaf period. But the plan to separate Astore was presented in 1998 to the federal government of PMLN at that time. PMLN rejected the plan by saying that, “Haar Naddi Nalay Ko aap Log District Bannany ka Sochtay Ho”. This was an indicator of the disconnectedness and lack of interest of PMLN towards Gilgit-Baltistan.
This time again, for the selection of care-taker cabinet, the central government of PMLN has neglected the peculiar dynamics of Gilgit-Baltistan. The decision for caretaker cabinet was made in complete isolation, without consultation with the local leadership. Resultantly, the religio-political parties have decided to start a region wide protest, if the federal government does not get done away with the non-representative cabinet with seven days times.
Goes without saying that a region wide protest against the controversial decision of the federal government will be very much lethal for PMLN in the up-coming elections.
PMLN, which is already unpopular in Gilgit-Baltistan, for favoring a certain fraction of people, will definitely lose the election. In the previous elections, from the both constituencies of city area Gilgit and from the both constituencies of Astore, PMLN gave tickets to the candidates belonging to a specific community, although these constituencies are completely pluralistic and highly sensitive along sectarian lines.
This time, repeating the history, central government of PMLN has selected three candidates from Diamer Region, one from Gilgit and one from Skardu, leaving Hunza-Nagar, Ghanche and Ghizer. The demography of GB is very much similar to Lebanon; Society is sharply divided along sectarian lines. Almost 75-80% population is Shia, rest of the population is Sunni Deobandi, while a small number of Ahla e Hadis are also found in Baltistan, along with a small community of Bralvi Sunni in Astore. Shiite are further divided into Ithna-Asheri, Ismalia and Noorbakshia.
In the recent interim cabinet there are five Deobandi candidates, including Caretaker CM, and one Shia Ithna-Asheri out of the Six members Cabinet. No representation of Ismaili’s and Noorbakshia communities. Ugly as this sectarian divide and discussion seems to be, it is a reality that cannot be ignored, because sectarian affiliations are a very strong part of the people’s self-identity in the region, and play an important role in the region’s society.
PMLN’s regional leadership has said that the cabinet has been chosen without their consent, but those statements are unlikely to have any significant impact, because the cabinet was announced by PMLN leader Chaudhary Barjees Tahir, who is also the Federal Minister for Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan.
These days PMLN is already under heavy criticism for their soft corner and strong connections with religious rightist groups, now by favoring a one specific community, a minority as compare to others is a political suicide for PMLN in Gilgit Baltistan.
To stay as a mainstream political party in GB, PMLN Central leadership must develop liaison with the people and leadership of GB. They must not remain detached from the people and their condition. This time again PMLN has committed a mistake by overriding merit and parity, but now convening an all parties meeting in Islamabad before the region wide protest would be re-conciliatory gesture by the central government to address the short run/ immediate grievances of the political parties and people of Gilgit Baltistan.
The contributor can be reached at Irfanali14@gmail.com