The shattered hopes
In August last year the government of Pakistan introduced the so-called empowerment and self-governance order claiming it would ensure unprecedented political powers to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. It also claimed that the step to introduce the package was aimed to resolve the lingering political unrest and deprivation and bring socio-economic prosperity to the area where unemployment and poverty had been rampant, so that the local people could utilize their resources and run their day-to-day affairs in accordance wit their needs and wishes. Moreover, it said the legislative assembly of the region was being given more powers to formulate laws in accordance with the need of the area. Later, the government announced to hold elections for the legislative assembly and sought votes in the name of what it said far-reaching political reforms, and then the ruling party formed its own government in the region despite widespread reservations by the locals.
PPP founder and former prime minister of Pakistan Zulfikar Ali Bhutto has been the ideological hero of the rulers but sadly even after completion of one year in power, there seem no change in the lives of the common people but the rulers' tall claims, which they made before the elections, have exposed their sincerity with the welfare of the region. Where are the fruits of the so-called empowerment and self-governance order which was imposed with so many tall claims about revolutionary changes? Is there any change in the lives of the masses or the poor people have further drifted towards poverty and pressed hard under lawlessness, price hikes and deprivation?
It is a fact that progress and development is never achieved through claims made by political leaders rather it comes through sustained and sincere efforts. When objections were raised against the introduction of the package in the region, the rulers termed the antagonists a stumbling block in the way of development in Gilgit-Baltistan. Even they were declared traitors and enemies of the people of the area.
Gilgit-Baltistan provides a huge sum of money to Pakistan as its share of the gross domestic product but the rulers illegally spend most of the amount on non-development expenditures and at the end of the day announce to give only about 10 billion rupees to this region as annual budgetary allocation. Even this amount is not released on time and Islamabad usually makes cuts in it, putting development of the region into the cold storage. This amount given to the region is not solely spent on the progress and welfare of the two million people but mostly goes into the pockets of the corrupt officials or consumed on the luxuries of ministers, advisers and members of the so-called legislative assembly. After passage of one year, the people of the region are justified to as how many laws have been made by these law makers for the welfare of the masses. Apart from these, it is the height of injustice that Islamabad never trusts the local people nor their elected representatives and has super imposed on them a non-elected body called Council, which consists of outside people who have no relation to the area in any sense. It is understandable that how this house of outsiders can take interest in the development of the region and welfare of its people.
Another shameful aspect of the drama is that a huge sum of Rs220 million snatched from the national treasury for the appointment of staff in the new Council secretariat has been distributed among the powerful people of Pakistan's four provinces and AJK by the notorious KANA Division. Besides, funds and other materials provided by China for the rehabilitation of the flood affected people of Gilgit-Baltistan have also been embezzled by Pakistani rulers.
When we look at the situation in Gilgit-Baltistan, it gives us pain to see that there is no peace and harmony in the region. Sectarianism has created a gloom over political, social and economic environment. The common man is crying for basic necessities of life and a large chunk of population is fast falling below the poverty line. Public sector organizations have become dens of corruption and lost public confidence and respect. Incidences of terrorism, lawlessness and violence has diminished the chances of employment and the youth after graduating from educational institutions from various parts of the country are migrating from the region in search of jobs. The so-called chief minister of the region instead of working for the people of the region is passing his days in luxury while sitting in Islamabad at the expense of public exchequer. And there is no hope that our public representatives would worry about the future of thousands of people who would be displaced as a result of the construction of the Diamer Dam which is being built to provide electricity and water to distant villages and cities of Pakistan.
Looking at the situation prevailing in the region, it will not be out of place if we say that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan remain slaves - politically, socially and economically -in the 21st century. And more unfortunate is the fact that their own corrupt, conscience-less and stooge leaders have been active in enslaving the masses for the last many decades due to their self interests, and there is no hope that the common people would get out of the quagmire as long as these so-called leaders remain calling the shots.
It is a fact that without freedom no nation can get its rights and identity. Our misfortune is that despite having geographical and political parameters of a nation, we have been deprived of our rights to exist only due to lack of political leadership and guidance. Those who succeeded to wield powers in the region for the last over 63 years became slaves to their petty economic and political interests and worked like more loyal than the king for others at the cost of their own people. When we look at the political scene in the area, it becomes clear that for the last over six decades, our so-called leaders have been used as mere tissue papers by Pakistani rulers.
If we do not stand up and fight for our rights, can any force on the surface of the earth come up and present our rights to us in a platter? If we want to live as a respectable and independent nation in the modern era, we have to rise and fight for our rights which have been snatched away from us. Otherwise we will remain in perpetual slavery and our coming generations will also live in be political, economic and social subjugation with their identity thrown into oblivion for ever.