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Gilgit-Baltistan elections

AS results from Monday’s elections for the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly show, the PML-N — with a comfortable majority of the legislature’s 24 directly elected seats — appears set to form the next government in the region.

The PPP, meanwhile, which led the last dispensation, has received a drubbing, reduced to single digits within the Assembly.

Meanwhile, the MWM and PTI, relatively new entrants in GB’s political arena, have made their debut in the legislature. Overall, the respectable turnout and largely peaceful, democratic transition shows that the people have taken ownership of their government as well as the electoral process.

Take a look: PML-N outshines rivals in GB polls

The PML-N’s success is hardly surprising; considering that the region’s fortunes — particularly its financial fortunes — are linked to the centre; people were expected to vote for the party in power in Islamabad.

Moreover, in its election campaign, the N-League highlighted one of its favourite topics — development — which struck a chord with GB’s people, as the mountainous region has poor infrastructure. Allegations of corruption and misrule during its time in power seemed to seal the PPP’s fate.

Despite the fact that the party has traditionally enjoyed a high level of support in GB, it failed to convince the electorate to give it another shot at governance.

Yet now that the election campaign is over and a new set-up is poised to take the reins, the people of the area will look to their government to deliver on perhaps their biggest demand: genuine autonomy and representation in all spheres.

For example, despite the centre’s dominating role in the area, especially through the GB Council, the people there cannot vote in National Assembly elections; hence they have no voice in shaping national policy that affects their region.

Also, the federal bureaucracy is accused by many local politicians and activists of excessive interference in regional affairs. These anomalies need to be rectified. The then PPP government at the centre took a progressive step by issuing the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order in 2009. The time is indeed now to build on this and devolve maximum powers to GB.

The state’s traditional position has been to link the fate of GB to the resolution of the Kashmir question, considering the region’s historical links to the disputed area.

Yet to wait for a resolution to this seemingly intractable issue is to leave the people of GB in constitutional limbo indefinitely. And besides, if Azad Kashmir can have a semi-autonomous constitutional governance structure, why must GB be deprived of this status?

The elected regional assembly must be more than just a glorified local government set-up and have maximum, genuine powers just as the provinces enjoy.

Moreover, a long-term constitutional status must be given to the region so that its people can fully participate in national life.

The new GB government will need to pursue these goals vigorously with the rulers in Islamabad.

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2015

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