The scheduled date for the long awaited elections in Gilgit-Baltistan has finally been decided, 15th November 2020 will see to the endowment of the Gilgiti people’s constitutional rights and the declaration of Gilgit-Baltistan as the fifth province of Pakistan. The elections are set to be held across 24 constituencies which will each elect one member to the 3rd Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly.
A research team from the Centre for Social and Political Research visited Gilgit-Baltistan to hold a series of talks with political representatives, social leaders as well as the local people. Discussions were held from 7th to 12th November regarding the future of the to-be province. Those contacted included Ghulam Nabi (ex-superintendent of police), Mehdi Shah (the first chief minister of GB) currently standing to represent Pakistan People’s Part in the upcoming elections, Raja of Shigar Azam Khan, Fida Ali Nashad (speaker GB Assembly), Ibrahim Sanai (ex-education minister), Major Amin (ex-mining minister), Allama Hasan Jafry (the Imam of Skardu) and, Sheikh Hasan Johari (Head of Gilgit-Baltistan youth alliance) along with, Ama Ansari, Nazar Abbas Kazmi and, Syed Shamsudd etc.
Gilgit-Baltistan currently holds a unique semi-provincial status. Although not recognized in Pakistan’s constitution, the people of GB hold Pakistani passports and identity cards. In 2009, an act was passed to award a self-rule status to the region and the authority to create a legislative assembly. However, the people of GB have longed to join Pakistan since 1947 when the newly elected prime minister of the region wrote a letter to Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah and expressed the people’s desire to accede to Pakistan.
Before Pakistan could reach a decision on the future of Gilgit-Baltistan, UNSC responded to Indian complaints of occupation and ordered both the countries, Pakistan and India, to withdraw their troops from the region until a plebiscite could be held. It has since been 73 years, and India refuses to withdraw forces from illegally-occupied Kashmiri territory and a fair plebiscite is yet to be held. Although not part of Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan remains immobilized in a crossfire between the two states.
Gilgit-Baltistan along with Kashmir and Ladakh had fallen into the grip of the Dogra Dynasty during British rule, this was a regime of Hindu Rajput rulers, which the people of Gilgit-Baltistan detested due to their tyrannical grip on the region. After the Dogra Maharaja had signed the Instrument of Accession to India, the people of GB passionately opposed, declaring themselves Pro-Pakistan and rising in a rebellion which ended with driving out the Dogra forces from the region and setting up a temporary provisional government.
In an interview conducted, the Raja of Shigar, Azam Khan states that while other territories contest for the right to freedom or the right to be separated from State, the people of GB have always rallied to join Pakistan. He claimed that 99% of people in Gilgit-Baltistan are happy with the PTI government’s decision to hold elections. Talking to a CSPR representative, Mehdi Shah stated that GB has been demonstrating since the time of Benazir Bhutto to increase its provincial authority and aims to join the NFC award in the near future.
Notably, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan do not associate themselves with the Kashmiri populace. Raja Azam Khan also the PTI Candidate for GBLA-12, states that the people of GB have no ethnical, cultural or historical link with the people of Kashmir. He also stated that the people of GB have been ludicrously dragged into the Kashmir issue for far too long.
In this light, remarks from India accusing Pakistan of illegally grabbing Indian territory, although not surprising are simply false. 2019 saw the dissolution of Article 370 by India and the region of Kashmir and Ladakh was granted a union territory status. However, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan reject any such relation to the Article 370 and remain free of the consequences of its revocation.
The spokesperson for the Indian Ministry for External Affairs, Anurag Srivastava said that, “We call upon Pakistan to vacate all Indian territories that are under their illegal occupation,” His statement was duly countered by Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson, Aisha Farooqui who stated that a government holding counterfeited ‘elections’ and turning the Kashmiri region into a prison through their illegal occupation, ”…has no locus standi to comment on elections in GB,”
Another surprising source of false statements has been none other than Kashmiri nationalists, who claim that Pakistan is holding elections in the region by force to consolidate the Gilgit-Baltistan territory into the country. This stands in clear contradiction of the vast amount of well-documented evidence which proves that joining Pakistan has been the wish of the Gilgiti people for the past 73 years.
In an interview, Syed Mehdi Shah, the first chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan states that Kashmir nationalists have no jurisdiction to pass remarks on the affairs of GB. He went on to raise an important question, if GB really did have any relation with the Kashmir territory, why didn’t Kashmiri nationalists speak up when Union Territory status was being granted to also place leadership in Gilgit-Baltistan?
Ex-SP Ghulam Nabi told a CSPR representative that he is hopeful that the federal government will award GB its due rights and the Gilgiti voice will finally reach the National Assembly. Speaking of the distinctive community of Gilgit-Baltistan, he said that the strength of the ulema is what upholds the pillars of peace and community in the region along with the continued work of social leaders and the public itself.
The notable Imam and Chairman Anjuman-e-Imamia Skardu, Allama Hasan Jafry also spoke of the ulema in the region stating that they were well-informed and educated on the finer aspects of both religion and community. He stated that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan were peaceful and accommodating.
Furthermore, Major M. Amin who remained the minster for minerals addressed allegations by the international community which had stated that the government of Pakistan was deciding to hold elections to receive mineral assets from the region to be used in CPEC and other projects. He declared that this was false since the rights to mines and minerals had already been sold on lease to around 105 contenders and the government had no unfair involvement in this department.
It is clear that misleading claims wherever they originate from, deeply hurt the sentiment and struggle of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan who have rallied for years in order to receive their constitutional rights and be consolidated with Pakistan. All such fabricated claims are an attempt to deny the people of Gilgit-Baltistan their desire to receive proper provincial status.