By Fida Karim
The Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) was part of the formerly princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. At the time of partition, the people had opted to be the part of Pakistan. But unfortunately, the GB is not fully incorporated in Pakistan yet. Due to which, we the inhabitants of GB have never had any representation in the National Assembly and Senate; thus GB have been excluded in the process of decision-making at national level. Nevertheless, on Aug 29 the federal cabinet unanimously approved the new Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Ordinance 2009, which has given somewhat internal political autonomy to GB along with a 33-seat unicameral legislative body under the name of Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA). It’s a separate debate, however, whether this constitutional package was able to empower the regional government or not. However, one thing is for sure: it did empower former chief minister Syed Mehdi Shah, who extracted the most out of this piece of legislation.
Now that the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly have completed its five years tenure on December 10, 2014 and new GBLA elections have been scheduled to be held on June 8, 2015; it is befitting to review the past performance of our representatives in terms of legislation and developmental results with equal focus on their respective parties in GB and other parts of Pakistan. So that GBians could take informed decisions in electing right candidates for next five years.
Before we proceed, it is worth noting to review the district-wise party position of outgoing cabinet members in GBLA to assess their performance in their respective districts of GB.
During the last five years Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) was governing GB under the leadership of Syed Mehdi Shah, Leader of House and the provincial head of PPP in GB. Under Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Ordinance 2009, GBLA can legislate on 53 subjects as provided in Schedule III of the Order. During the period under review, GBLA enacted 31 laws in its stint and passed about 100 resolutions in total 41 sessions. Although, the lawmakers eulogized their own performance over the past five years, terming it better than rest of the Assemblies in Pakistan but the bitter reality is that several of the resolutions passed by the GBLA relate to “thanks” and “praises” for President Zardari and PPP government. The people of GB believe that the assembly has failed to come up to the expectations of Gbians in protecting enshrined basic rights of the people in GB. The statement of Wazir Shakil Ahmed-the law Minister of outgoing GBLA in the local media is specially worth pondering wherein he stated that the House was only doing business of resolution and nothing else and termed debating ambiguous resolutions is tantamount to wastage of time.
As far as service delivery of GBLA members in their respective constituencies is concern, they have totally been failed to materialize their manifestos in GB. Before the election, PPP was sloganeering about providing “Roti, Kapda or Makan” (shelter, cloth & livelihood) while the MQM was luring voters on the pretext of "mazloomoon ka sathi ha" (supporters of downtrodden). Same is the case with religious parties and the center-right Pakistan Muslim League. As can be seen from the given table of educational attainments, the under qualified legislators and corrupt PPP government in GB has become synonymous with bad governance, corruption, nepotism, favoritism and regionalism in GB.
Under the patronage of Mehdi Sarkar, the education department of GB had become the main hub of illegal money making for notorious people like Kacho Fayaz, Director of Academics, Raja Nasir, and Deputy Director Mirbaz Ali Faraz who have been dubbed by regional media as a “virus” for quality education in GB. The local and national media is flooded with the alleged illegal appointments of government staff by this mafia through taking RKR 300,000 for each position. This rampant corruption marred uplift projects in GB. That's why all the people of Gilgit-Baltistan including GBLA Speaker Wazir Baig (a PPP ticket holder from Hunza) sees bleak future for PPP in Gilgit-Baltistan because they “wasted” their four years in government.
The collapsed Khizirabad Bridge before completion of construction work that was still under construction from 2001 onward in Lower Hunza is one example from this “lost era” of PPP regime in GB.
It is worth noting that majority of our representatives in GBLA were under graduates. Ex Chief Minister Mehdi Shah was one of them who have just FA degree but he is still entitled to hefty lifelong perks and privileges. These include Rs350, 000 monthly pensions besides an unlimited monthly health cover payment, unlimited fuel, telephone facilities, a residence in a posh sector of Islamabad and the services of a security guard till his death. While on the other side, several thousand of Master's and MS degree holders including some of IBA & LUMS graduates (yes LUMS graduates) are wondering here and there in search of a decent job in GB. Forthcoming GBLA elections are providing us a befitting opportunity to take revenge from those who have deprived GBians from our basic right by using public office for their personal gains. In this regard, I strongly request all the GBians to use your precious vote to outcast those who have use their public office to promote their vested interest through nepotism, corruption and bad governance and instate those who have SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, rational and time bound) plans and locally connected enough at grassroots level to bring positive changes in GB. Otherwise history will not forgive us for losing this great opportunity to bring positive change at our societal level. It is high time to judiciously give vote to those candidates who are well educated, equally competent and experience enough in service delivery to their respective communities in GB.
This is the time to say "not" to the patrons of corruption, nepotism, supporters of violent arm wings and gangsters like Saulat Mirza and Uzair Balochs along with hatemongers and religious extremist to ensure a peaceful and prosperous GB. Let's work together to become the part of solutions and wisely use the power of our votes in forthcoming GBLA elections to ensure economically vibrant, socially tolerant and just, politically participatory democratic and educationally a meritocratic society in GB.
The writer is Dubai based freelance Research Analyst.
He has special interest in youth-centric socioeconomic issues, international development and political economy.