Gilgit-Baltistan: Political Rejuvenation in Hunza

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A massive landslide in the village of Attabad in Hunza last year buried the whole village and 19 precious lives under its debris. The landslide was so massive that it blocked Hunza River, which has turned into a monstrous lake. In addition, incompetency of government to deal with natural disasters has aggravated the condition of not only people of the affected village, but also people living in the upstream of Hunza River. With the passage of time Attabad Lake has devoured various villages and displaced thousands of people from their hearths and homes. Every natural disaster naturally entails loses in terms of human lives and property. The best policy in such a situation is to take initiatives to contain social ramifications of natural disasters in the future.

In the case of Attabad disaster the government tried to bring in succor to the people who were rendered insecure by displacement. Strategically, relief efforts should be followed by plans and endeavors for rehabilitating Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs). On the contrary the government of Gilgit-Baltistan decided to keep the affected people in a state of perpetual relief for unknown reasons. This has made life more difficult for the affectees. Consequently, fallouts of Attabad disaster has jolted the apparently peaceful folks of Hunza from their political torpor and exposed them to harsh reality of being a politically poor society. Now people are mulling over the causes of political deficit and possible political scenario of Hunza in the future.

This soul searching is triggered by a tragic incident in Hunza when the affectees of Attabad disaster staged a protest for their compensation on the occasion of visit of the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan –Mehdi Shah. In sheer contravention of law, a deputed officer ordered firing that resulted in the death of father and son hailing from an affected village. This incident added fuel to the fire of already simmering emotions that burst forth in the shape of violence and resulted in burning of various government offices in the newly formed district of Hunza-Nagar.

Instead of bringing real culprits of the incident to books, the local administration resorted to mass arrest of political and social activists across Hunza. Ironically, incarceration of political activists on false charges has been happening under a political government and democratic dispensation. Social and political analysts in the region attribute strong tactics of intimidation of political workers as a ploy by some powerful quarters to stifle burgeoning political process in Hunza, which has remained apolitical during last three decades for various reasons. There are many factors that contribute to increasing political awareness and activism on the hand, and consternation of the proponents of status quo about political activism in the region where geo-strategic interests of Pakistan intersect with neighboring states of China, Afghanistan and India.

Foremost among the factors for political rejuvenation in Hunza is demographic shift, for youth comprises bulk of the population in Hunza. Unlike the apolitical generation that benefited from dissemination of education in last 3 decades of the last century in Hunza, the youth of Hunza now are more assertive in political arena. People of Hunza got exposure to mass literacy in 80s. They seized upon the moment to uplift their economic condition by entering into service sector which was opened by modernity, commerce and at the latter stage NGOs. Because of emerging opportunities and absorption of erstwhile educated cadre in job market, the bigger question of political rights vis-à-vis economic empowerment did not emerge.

Until now, electorate in Hunza has elected representatives who belonged to mainstream political parties of the country. While focusing on the bigger picture at Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) level, analysts tend to overlook a new cadre that is emerging on political front at district council and tehsil level. These are the people who are paving the way for creation of critical mass at grass root level. It is because of this cadre the political question reemerged on the political landscape of Hunza after the lull of two decade. This time the political process has slowly started taking roots. Hence, we see emergence of various nationalists, religious and national parties on political scenario of Hunza.

The people apprehended during the last three months on the charges of fomenting violence in Hunza belong to that category of political workers and leaders who feel the pulse of street and are engaged with quotidian affairs of people. This new cadre is more assertive in political rights for they are of the view that attainment of political rights is an effective way to economic empowerment.  Expansion of influence of new political cadre and activists will put an end to the privilege and prestige of the elements benefiting from status quo. One of the strong reasons for use of disproportionate force against people after the unrest in Hunza is to strangle emerging political discourse into isolation. Incarceration of political leaders and activists of progressive persuasion is an attempt to gag voices who reject state paternalism.

During the last one and half month the whole administrative machinery in Hunza is geared towards suppressing people who are engaged in political process. Meanwhile, a crop of readymade leadership has sprouted in field to capture political space by capitalizing on existing political vacuum and leadership crisis. The best course for the civil society of Hunza in particular and region in general is to favour leaders and activists who have been part of political process and rejecting those who emerge as messiahs from a window opportunity provided by coercion of indigenous movement by the state.

For a democratic and political vibrant society, the civil society of Hunza and the region needs to be vigilant about reincarnation of figures who have overtly or covertly contributed to de-politicisation of society to appease the corridors of power. The recent violence in idyllic Hunza valley is just a prologue to the political question that has remained in limbo because of the political amnesia. The future of region will be determined by the answers people give to long overdue political questions and choices they make between progressive forces and proponents of status quo.

The writer is an Islamabad based social scientist belonging to GB and can be reached at


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