The young people of Gilgit-Baltistan [G-B] believe the G-B Empowerment and Self-Governance Order of 2009 should be a starting point from which the process of granting the territory representation in the Senate and National Assembly can begin.
There is a strong desire for equal rights as citizens among people aged 18-35 years in G-B, who resent years of poor governance and seek an end to the constitutional uncertainty over the status of the region. These are the findings of a new survey conducted by an Azad Kashmir-based NGO.
The findings are significant given the problems of cohesion faced by the federation of Pakistan. We have over the past decades paid insufficient attention to the situation of people in GB, who do not enjoy Pakistani citizenship or the rights that come with this. While the majority of those surveyed welcomed the 2009 legislation that granted them an assembly and a sense of identity, they also wanted more. The issue of GB is also tied in to that of Kashmir.
Historically a part of the state of Kashmir, Gilgit Baltistan was not amalgamated after 1947 into Pakistan, on the premise that its future would be settled along with that of Kashmir. The plebiscite under which Pakistan hoped this would happen has never taken place and as a consequence the two million people of GB have remained without nationality or the right to representation for no fault of their own.
The ordeal of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan needs to end. The survey shows that people in the territory want better governance and a greater say in their own affairs. They point out that flaws in the 2009 Order continue to deprive them of this, with the GB Council, set up as the Upper House, assuming the role of decision-making rather than allowing elected bodies to perform this task. This is among the matters that need correction. In GB, we have a body of people who wish to link up more strongly with Pakistan but are not allowed to do so. This is ironic given the grievances with the federation that exist elsewhere, most notably in Balochistan.
We need to end the long deprivation suffered by the people of GB. The youth of the region has made its feelings known. A longer period without full statehood could lead to alienation. We must not allow this to happen. The rights, and sentiments, of people must be respected and ways found to address the problems highlighted in the survey. The Order of 2009 makes a move in the right direction, but still falls short of meeting the aspirations of people whose voices and opinions we have not heard often enough over the past decades. We need to hear them now. – The News