KARACHI: A monograph titled The Gilgit-Baltistan Conundrum: Dilemmas of Political Integration by Sajjad Ahmed was launched at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) on Thursday evening.
Director Institute of Historical and Social Research, Dr Jaffar Ahmed, whose institute has published the book, said the author had been working at the University of Karachi and came in contact with him a year and a half back. When Dr Ahmed asked him about his research interests, he told him that he visited Gilgit-Baltistan frequently for writing papers. So he [Dr Ahmed] assigned the young man the task of doing a book on GB. They didn’t know that by the time the book was published, the region would be in the news in this manner. “It’s a very timely book in that sense.”
Dr Ahmed said the book covers the history of Gilgit-Baltistan, what’s happening in the area these days and what had been the general political dynamics in the region.
Director School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University, Dr Farhan H. Siddiqi, spoke via Zoom link. He focused on the strengths and dilemmas vis-à-vis the content of the monograph and in the last part raised a few questions.
Speaking about the strengths of the published piece he said for anyone who wants to have an understanding of how Gilgit-Baltistan was shaped in colonial history and postcolonial times and how it developed into a modern-day political quagmire, the monograph has a good introduction to all those aspects. The other strength it has is that it mentions the horizontal conflict (between the region and the Pakistani state) and the vertical conflict involving local rulers, feudal elites and the masses.
Region’s political dynamics discussed at book launch
Dr Siddiqi said in terms of dilemmas the book deals with them at two levels: first, linkage of the region with the conflict in Kashmir. The other level is about associating Gilgit-Baltistan with the politics, administrative issues and dynamics of Azad Kashmir.
Dr Siddiqi in the end put forth some questions/comments. The first was about the state of nationalist parties in GB. “How and why do the national mainstream parties in Pakistan dominate the Gilgit-Baltistan electoral space? Why do the local elites join these parties?”
Another point that he put forward was about the ethno-sectarian divide and how that factors into nationalist politics. The last comment was on how the region is interpreted as a security zone. He asked, “Is that changing now” [with talk of the region being given provisional provincial status.]
The author Sajjad Ahmed, who teaches at IBA, said colleagues and friends time and again ask him two questions: are you from Gilgit-Baltistan and why do you go there often. He argued that GB is an under-researched area. Not many Pakistanis go there. It’s the Germans who have been doing extensive research in the zone for the last 35 to 40 years. So if someone works there, it’s thought that either he is from outside of Pakistan or from that region. Things started to change after 2015 after CPEC when roads were constructed as people [from Punjab and Sindh] started to visit GB.
Mr Ahmed said the book is the result of the work that he did last year. Somehow it got delayed, while Covid-19 also happened. Nature worked in such a way that now every TV channel is highlighting the region, so everything coincided well.
On the topic of why the masses support the mainstream political parties in GB, he said during his research he found a variety of answers to the query. It’s largely to do with the mindset that the party which is sitting in the centre will bring development to the region. Explaining it further, he said the region used to be very poor until the 1970s when it was connected with other parts of the country after the construction of the Karakorum Highway. As for the nationalist parties, he added, they were unable to gain the masses’ support because of the heavy-handedness of the law enforcement agencies.
Dr Sahar Nadeem, chairperson of IBA’s Social Sciences and Liberal Arts Department which organised the launch, moderated the event.
Published in Dawn, November 13th, 2020