By Zafar Ali
It is a paradox that while some forces in the country are struggling to part ways with it, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) have been begging and pleading for the last more than six decades to be assimilated as Pakistanis. They are told repeatedly by those at the helm of affairs to wait until the Kashmir dispute is settled. Though, historically, G-B remained under the rule of Maharaja Kashmir, before the locals staged an uprising in 1947 against Ghansara Singh, the last Dogra governor who liberated the area before announcing to merge it with Pakistan. In 1949, under the notorious Karachi Agreement, signed between the government of Pakistan and representatives of Azad Jammu & Kashmir in the absence of any representative from G-B, the Kashmiri leadership agreed and ratified administrative control of Pakistan over the region until the Kashmir issue was settled, despite the fact that the people of G-B had liberated the area without any external help. Since then, the constitutional status of the region is in limbo.
Two important events that happened recently have again brought the constitutional status of G-B to limelight. Firstly, the federal government recently conceded to the demand of the people of G-B to restore wheat subsidy after weeks of protests and sit-ins brought life across the region to a standstill. The protesters, in a veiled reference, also made it clear that their status should clearly be defined before it was too late. During the recent protests, nationalist forces in G-B took full advantage of the sense of deprivation among the masses, especially the youth, and lured others to join their cause in order to ‘liberate’ the region from ‘alien forces’.
Another important issue was raised during one of the recent meetings of the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights, which asked the federal government to fully empower the G-B legislative assembly with legislative and administrative powers by amending the G-B Empowering and Self-Rule Order of 2009.
The government must do some soul-searching to delineate a clear-cut and precise path to define the constitutional status of the region, before the people consider the option of knocking at the doors of international forums. That may put the government in an awkward situation, as denial of human and constitutional rights is against international law.