The region of Gilgit-Baltistan has remained always an anomaly in the political system of Pakistan. There are several factors that contributed to its status being kept in constitutional limbo. Foremost among these is the Kashmir dispute, as well as regional geopolitics at large. Although the region is not a direct party to the conflict, it remains relevant to the issue because of its strategic location. Various governments in Pakistan have tried to incorporate Gilgit-Baltistan into the country’s political structure.
The announcement of the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-governance Order by the government last year was the latest attempt by the state to bring the region into Pakistan’s political mainstream. Under the current dispensation a newly elected assembly has elected a chief minister and a governor has been appointed by the federal government. It is for the first time that the region enjoys its own setup with an empowered legislature. People have high expectations regarding the delivery of results from the elected members Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA).
Effective management of the affairs of the assembly and good governance will require that the leaders rise above petty personal interests. The members of the GBLA and the new setup should master the modern mode of governance. Application of worn out strategies for the management of the new system would be doomed to failure.
To ensure good governance it is indispensable for GBLA members and the staff associated with the assembly to be truly empowered. The existing setup and procedures are new to most of the members of the assembly. In the absence of clear understanding of the system the local administration there is a state of confusion resulting from the fact that while the administration has experience of the previous system, the mode of administrative functioning has changed at the upper tiers of the system under the new package. One of the flaws of the empowerment package is that it was hastily put together, without an effort being made to prepare the ground for the new system. Because of this, the bulk of the development last year’s budget went to the meeting of the new system’s expenses.
Empowerment entails great responsibility. It is the responsibility of the members of the GBLA to ensure development in the area by using their powers effectively. Too much dependence on the bureaucracy and the central government will render futile all the exercise involved in setting up the new system: the election and the establishment of new institutions, as well as the legislation the assembly will produce.
Members of the GBLA enjoy perks and privileges and a hefty amount is earmarked for the chief minister and the governor of Gilgit-Baltistan. If this trend continues, the government of Gilgit-Baltistan would end up incurring a large debt on non-development expenditures. Without generation of resources at the local level the Gilgit-Baltistan government cannot meet its expenses. In the long term this will contribute to bad governance.
Gilgit-Baltistan’s failure to manage its own affairs will provide justification to the bureaucracy and some political elements at the centre to take away the powers of the GBLA. Since they are representative of the people it is the duty of the elected members to acquaint themselves well with the new system and ensure development by encouraging effective exploitation of available resources in the region. Gilgit-Baltistan has enormous potential in minerals and mining.
The government of Gilgit-Baltistan has taken some initiatives by inviting investors from other parts of the country and abroad. However, the process of issuing licenses to investors has not been transparent in the last 15 years. The practice of issuing licenses through questionable means for mining and exploration of minerals has hurt the relations between the local administration and communities.
Leasing out local resources without the consent of the local communities will only make them vulnerable to manipulation by commercial giants. A major challenge that will be faced by the government of Gilgit-Baltistan in the future will be striking balance between exploiting mining potential and protecting the local communities’ interests. For that purpose, the GBLA has to pass appropriate legislation.
The first litmus test of the newly elected government in Gilgit-Baltistan came with the aftermath of the Atabad Lake disaster, which became a human disaster because of the sheer incompetence and negligence of the chief minister and his team. This is revealed by lack of coordination between government departments and non-government organisations. The chief minister appears to be confused about his role in the new dispensation in Gilgit-Baltistan.
The government of Gilgit-Baltistan shirks its responsibilities when it engages in non-issues as to the disaster, such as its moving a resolution to declare protesting Atabad victims traitors.
The issue of coordination between different departments is urgent because the absence of it will bring administrative functions to a halt, which will be the ultimate failure of governance in Gilgit-Baltistan.
The writer (Aziz Ali Dad ) is associated with Strengthening Participatory Organization (SPO), Islamabad. Email: email@example.com
Courtesy: The News International, July 29, 2010