MASSIVE protests held across Gilgit-Baltistan over the past several days have united the region’s geographically and religiously diverse communities, as well as supporters of different political parties. Moreover, traders’ bodies in the northern region have also backed the demonstrations. GB’s people have taken to the streets in freezing temperatures for a raft of reasons, which include questions about land rights, taxation, extensive power cuts as well as a reduction in the amount of subsidised wheat the centre provides the region. The fact is that GB’s residents are protesting about many of the same things people in other parts of Pakistan also raise their voices against. However, GB’s ambiguous constitutional status, as well as the lack of infrastructure compared to the rest of the country, makes this region’s plight unique. The protesters are not in favour of the GB Revenue Authority Bill, which was passed by the region’s assembly last year, as they say it imposes additional taxes on the region without giving it any representation in the federation. Moreover, the locals also have serious reservations about the state taking over land in the region that they say belongs to the people. The state has been acquiring land in GB for CPEC as well as other projects.
Considering that the people of GB have united over these issues, the state has to engage with them, listen to their concerns and arrive at mutually agreed solutions. Ramming ‘solutions’ down the people’s throats will only aggravate matters. The local people have a valid point where it comes to additional taxation. If the state is extracting revenue from the region, then it also has a responsibility to provide elected representation for GB in parliament. Of course, the constitutional status of the region has been kept vague due to the Kashmir dispute, but as has been argued in the past, a provisional provincial status can be considered for GB until that imbroglio is resolved. Coming to the land issue, this is a very sensitive matter and only through engaging with the local people politically can it be resolved amicably. While the state has a right to acquire land it feels is essential in the national interest, the people need to be taken on board and compensated accordingly, and no forced takeovers of land should take place. It is hoped that representatives of the government engage with the people of GB and resolve these issues in a democratic fashion.
Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2023