Shaky governance arrangement – 13 May 2023

DEMOCRACY thrives in an environment wherein the diverse interests of common citizens are channelised through a political process informed by a framework for policy decision-making and implementation. Representing as they do the collective voice of the people, political parties play a vital role in ensuring the effective implementation of policy decisions as well as the maintenance of an accountable, transparent, and functional governance system.

While political parties play a crucial role in democracy, within a federal system, smaller administrative units or provinces can end up being overshadowed by the national government.

When regions lack a defined political status, the situation results even in the denial of the areas` genuine demands. Thus, relegated to a lesser status, these regions are subjected to unaccountable control by national political parties.

Gilgit-Baltistan is one such region of Pakistan.

Despite the passage of more than 73 years of existence, GB remains under de facto federal control. After years of struggle, the government of Pakistan (GoP) in 2009, during the PPP`s tenure, agreed to establish in GB a government with an assembly comprising elected representatives of the people of this region. This assembly, however, featured only limited powers of legislation.

To give GB an appearance of a province, the presidential decree issued by the PPP government also authorised the creation of the offices of chief minister and governor.

Prior to this, powerless advisory councils created through administrative orders were the norm. Even in these bodies, the dominance of national political parties in GB was ensured through the election or nomination of their own members. These parties also pitched their members for the newly established assembly. The local population considered aligning with these national parties as a way to achieve their rights.

Conveniently, the GoP held the election in the middle of the National Assembly`s term. Thus, a rather shaky governance arrangement created through an administrative order came to be dominated by the party in the centre. Successive elections have turned into a farce, as an all-powerful and unaccountable central government invariably ends up winning the elections and forming the local government. Resultantly, no local party representing the interests of the region hasformed due to its lack of fit with the national political structure.

Compared to this situation, initially, Azad Jammu & Kashmir, represented by their local party, attained autonomy as a largely independent entity. Under national political parties, GB continues to struggle even for a provisional provincial status. This has practically rendered more than two million people stateless, leading to serious ramifications that weaken the national interest.

After AJK let in national parties, it ended up having to toe their line on national policies, thus compromising local priorities.

Unfortunately, under the guise of reforms of the political system, major national political parties have mutated into family fiefdoms or business ventures. This has tightened the dynastic hold on the leading political parties. The dominance of the party head has been further cementedthrough legislation, making the latter all-powerful and accountable to none. Such an autocratic hierarchical structure has forced the already frail regional chapters to be totally subservient to the national party leadership. The makeup of the present legislative assembly of GB comprises 22 PTI, four PPP, three PML-N, one MWM, one JUI, one Islami Tehreek Pakistan and one independent members. During the elections, the return of majority of the members belonging to the PTI was a forgone conclusion, as the party was then heading the federal government. Under the impetus of popular demand for constitutional rights on par with citizens of Pakistan, a constitutional amendment for provisional status of a province for GB was floated. However, purportedly due to lack of interest by the PTI federal government, the proposal was consigned to cold storage through the formation of a committee to examine the proposed amendment a tried-and-tested tactic forscuttling unwanted proposals.

One of the major issues to emerge in the local politics of GB is the erosion of traditional values of mutual respect and tolerance. These can be traced back to the Buddhist cultural influences on GB.

Recently, such tolerance and acceptance have been replaced by antagonistic norms, with divisive sectarianism now manifesting itself even in political disagreements. Unfortunately, during the last elections in GB, political campaigns were observed to be tainted by the toxic, violent, and abusive practices of national parties, with leaders resorting to venomous diatribes, not even sparing female candidates heading the opposing parties.

This behaviour appalled the local population, which expected the political leaders to be role models. Moreover, the youth continue to be exposed to these bitter discourses through interaction with the content produced by social media warriors.

To safeguard the rights and cultural values of the people of GB, it is vital for the local political leadership to establish a new party focused on securing constitutional rights, a fair share of natural resources, inclusion in CPEC, and on repairing the damage wrought by the canker of corruption laced with arrogance in the political system over the last five years. Parting ways with the national parties will help to reinst ate the politics of decency in GB. Such a political party would have the moral ballast to compel the federal government to address all genuine demands, while denying it the opportunity to `divide and rule.

Estimated to cost $57 billion, the upcoming Main Line 1 (ML1) CPEC project offers unprecedented opportunities for regional prosperity.

Thus, the time is ripe for GB to form a local party with its own manifesto which focuses on the local problems and priorities so that it can speak on behalf of the people of GB while disentangling from national political conflicts.

By uniting under a single banner, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan can secure their constitutional rights and carve a better future for themselves andfuture generations.Itis crucialto ensure that the party`s agenda represents the views and interests of all members of the community and operates within the framework of democratic principles and rule of law. • The wnter, a former IGP, Sindh, belongs to Gilgit-Balästan.

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