AS Gilgit-Baltistan’s constitutional status has been tied to the resolution of the Kashmir dispute, the region has been bereft of many of the rights that Pakistanis enjoy. The state may have taken a principled stand meant to protect its position on the Kashmir question, but it has failed to formulate a modus vivendi to resolve GB’s issues until a permanent solution is achieved. While steps have been taken by the centre to address the issue — eg the self-governance orders of 2009 and 2018 — these moves have fallen short of the GB people’s expectations, particularly the 2018 order. This legal lacuna has bred alienation. On Sunday, demonstrations were held within and outside GB to push for a permanent settlement of the region’s status. The demonstrators called for starting a protest movement unless a permanent solution was achieved.
The federal government must employ tact and understanding, keeping the demands of GB’s people in view while formulating policy. There are various demands which the state can meet to contain the situation such as empowering the GB Assembly and allowing freedom for political activists to operate freely. A heavy-handed approach may risk inflaming matters — eg a youth leader was picked up recently in Skardu for ‘creating hatred’. Instead, the state needs to offer the people a genuine arrangement that protects their rights until a final solution to the Kashmir issue is reached. Perhaps something along the lines of the Azad Kashmir model can be set up. The best way to proceed would be to take the local people on board and listen to GB’s elected representatives and civil society. Imposing solutions from the top is unlikely to address the locals’ disaffection. The question of GB’s place within Pakistan has been left to linger for over seven decades. It is time a democratic answer was provided to protect the state’s concerns, while guaranteeing GB’s fundamental rights.
Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2019