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G-B elections: Rare visits from leaders bring hollow hope

By Shabbir Mir

GILGIT: 

Leaders of mainstream political and religious parties who were rarely seen in Gilgit-Baltistan have suddenly made the region their centre of gravity.

These include Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan, Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Khursheed Shah and former minister for information Qamar Zaman Kaira.

Party-ing it up

A large number of Pakistan Peoples Party leaders Shehla Raza, Zamrud Khan, Afzal Nadim Chand and Nayyar Bukhari have also visited G-B to consolidate whatever is left of the party that has been crippled by recent defections.

All Pakistan Muslim League chief coordinator Ahmed Raza Khan Kasuri, Awami Muslim League leader Sheikh Rasheed, Islami Tehreek chief Allama Sajid Naqvi, Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen leader Abbas Hussain and Senator Mushahiddullah Khan have also visited the region over the last month.

During the previous polls, Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid leaders made a bid to consolidate their party’s image in the region and succeeded in having three of its members elected to the assembly.

However, all these three leaders have now defected to other parties, leaving a question mark on PML-Q’s status in the region.

Lease on life

A rare gesture of reaching out to the people of G-B, these visits have given a new lease of life into a nascent political process.

The region has been denied representation in the national legislatures because of the absence of a constitutional provision. However, it was in 2009 that G-B’s status was upgraded to a self-governing unit under the G-B Empowerment and Self-governance Order 2009. As a result, a chief minister and a governor were duly appointed for the region.

The elections scheduled for June 8 will take place under the same arrangement. Over 600,000 voters are expected to cast their vote on polling day under army supervision.

Lessons from the past

Amid the flurry of last-minute pledges, there is a looming fear that promises made before the elections will once again remain unfulfilled.

When the 2009 order was introduced six years ago, an unprecedented spell of political activism was witnessed in G-B. Various politicos visited the region to establish a stronghold for their
party there.

PPP leader and then prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani had visited two days before polling day, November 12, 2009, to announce a series of development projects. He vowed to provide jobs, curb inflation and pledged to improve facilities at Gilgit and Skardu airports so Boeing aircrafts could land there. However, these promises are still in the pipeline even though the PPP had five years to bring them to fruition.

The current prime minister and his brother Shahbaz Sharif, who is the chief minister of Punjab, also visited Gilgit prior to the previous elections to address rallies.

Awami National Party leadership had also promised to settle of boundary depute between Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and G-B. However, the party did little to achieve this ambitious goal and has therefore lost its standing in the region.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement leaders Waseem Ahmed and Haider Abbas Rizvi had also vowed to help the region get its constitutional rights.

Five years later, G-B remains in constitutional limbo and the leaders have done little to change the status quo.

With just 24 hours till the first vote is cast, the future of governance in G-B remains uncertain. All that remains is a bittersweet spell of activism and excitement triggered by political leaders and a long road, possibly circuitous, ahead.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 7th, 2015.

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