HRCP says frustration rising among people of Gilgit-Baltistan

ISLAMABAD, Oct 25: A fact-finding mission sent to Gilgit-Baltistan by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has revealed that not a single group or individual was completely satisfied with the Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009. The report of the commission, ‘Caught in a new great game?’, which was launched at a local hotel, recommended that the prime minister, who heads the GB Council, should convene a meeting of the council every two months and also consider delegating his power as the chairperson to someone else if it was difficult for him to attend its sessions. hrcpIt may be noted that GB, known until 2009 as Northern Areas, spreads over approximately 28,000 square miles and borders with China, Afghanistan and the Indian-held Kashmir. It has been treated as part of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir for 66 years even though the local population insists that though history their region has had a status completely distinct from Kashmir. The HRCP sent fact-finding teams to the area twice – in 2005 and 2013 – to ascertain the feelings of the people about the working of the successive governments. The mission, which visited GB from October 26 to October 30, 2013, consisted of HRCP executive council members Ghazi Salahuddin and Roland D’Souza. They were accompanied by Hussain Naqi and Najamuddin from the HRCP Secretariat. Findings of the report The report said a majority of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan were frustrated for not formally merging their area into Pakistan as a constitutionally recognised fifth province. Many said if that was not immediately possible because of the region being bracketed with the Kashmir dispute, they would settle for a provisional provincial status until the Kashmir issue was resolved. As a last resort, some suggested a governance system similar to that of Azad Kashmir. The 2009 Order was criticised for not even being an act of parliament but a mere executive order and, therefore, lacking due legal status. There was near complete agreement that the dispensation introduced in 2009 did not give GB the status of a province. The people of the area felt that they should be respected for their forefathers’ struggle to liberate the region. However, they felt disappointed that they were not given facilities and rights available to people in other parts of the country. Lack of proper governance and widespread corruption were common complaints and it was alleged that government jobs were being sold out. All those who alleged corruption in hiring mentioned the same amount – Rs300,000 – as the cost of a government job. The HRCP report also said the people of the region believed that their issues did not get attention at the national level. The GB Council held only one meeting in four years. Though rich in natural resources, GB has not done very well in realising its economic potential. In the absence of industries, unemployment rate is high. The mission also found that tourism had not been established as an industry and the little infrastructure developed in the area was at the brink of destruction. Though major incidents of sectarian killings did not occur for a year, the people were apprehensive that such killings could begin again any time. Recommendations The fact-finding mission recommended that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan should be taken into confidence regarding the reasons why their area had not been integrated into Pakistan. The reform process that began in 2009 must not remain a solitary measure and continue. If properly educated, the youth of GB could be an asset. The quota reserved for students from the area in the educational institutions of Pakistan should be increased. Proper facilities, including transport, should be provided at the Skardu campus of the Karakoram International University. Transparency, particularly in hiring of government employees, will go a long way in restoring the people’s confidence in the governance system. Greater political participation for women must be guaranteed. The government should make efforts to adequately compensate and rehabilitate the people affected by the Attabad disaster and prepare a framework to prevent internal displacement. The fact that none of the culprits arrested for the sectarian killings has been sentenced so far is causing an anxiety and suspicions among the people. The killers should be punished and the victim families given adequate compensation. Full protection should be provided to all those travelling to and from GB. There is also a strong demand for developing and implementing an effective mineral policy in order to establish an advanced mineral industry that can provide jobs and multiply earnings. Dams can be built to capitalise on the abundant water resources and provide electricity to the region as well as other parts of Pakistan.]]>

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