BY OUR CORRESPONDENT
GILGIT: An overwhelming majority of youth interviewed recently in Gilgit – Baltistan (G-B) have dissociated themselves from the larger Kashmiri identity.
The stunning disclosure came on Sunday during launching ceremony of a research report titled ‘unheard voices: Engaging youth of Gilgit – Baltistan’, organized by G-B Policy Institute (G-BPI) in collaboration with Center for Peace, Development and Reforms (CPDR).
The report was authored by Waqas Ali and Taqi Akhunzada under the auspices of CPDR against the backdrop of the Kashmir conflict and its constitutional limbo that has also affected the constitutional status of G-B for more than six decades.
“Almost 82 percent of the youth surveyed preferred to call themselves Pakistanis and dissociated themselves from the larger Kashmiri identity,” Waqas Ali, the principle author told the inaugural ceremony chaired by minister works Dr Muhammad Iqbal and attended by nearly two dozen others including members of civil society, lawyers and students.
Near 500 men and women aged between 18-35 drawn from across the region were interviewed, said the author.
Almost 82 per cent of those surveyed believed that introduction of Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009 is a step in right direction. While about 70 percent of youth surveyed believed the Order 2009 provided them their identity and, at least, a space where they could legislate on a range of local issues.
The report says that sustained denial of constitutional and political rights under the pretext of the Kashmir conflict has created a deep rooted suspicion in the minds of the local people who joined Pakistan after independence unconditionally.
Most participants of the survey feel there is a huge trust deficit between the people in G-B and AJK as they believe AJK leadership is a key obstacle when it comes to granting them political rights.
A large number of youth interviewed underlined the need to reopen the old road link between the two territories to help rebuild a relationship based on mutual trust and respect and to explore avenues where the two territories could cooperate on a shared agenda.
Health education and unemployment are the top concern of young people of Gilgit-Baltistan, report says.
The report not only covers all the major issues faced by youth, but also gives a detailed account of the genesis of various issues young people face in G-B. Waqas Ali, the principle researcher is of the view that more than anything else, it’s the state structure which makes people feel disengaged and alienated from the federal government as it hardly allows them access to the decision making process.
According to the report G-B council, established in 2009 as an upper house with the Prime Minister of Pakistan as its chairman, along with six federal ministers as its members have become a major decision-making body which undermines whatever limited autonomy is available to elected leadership.
The elected Legislative Assembly is now functional, but all major decisions are still effectively taken by the federal government in Islamabad through G-B Council. It has made Gilgit-Baltistan government a subservient body in the eyes of the local people.
The ceremony was also addressed by the minister Dr Iqbal, G-BPI president Altaf Hussain, Ershad Mehmud of CPDR and Resource Reconciliation head in Pakistan among others.