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Karakorum International University (KIU) Gilgit
Karakorum International University Gilgit (KIU) Photo by Kamran Ahmed

Voices from Gilgit-Baltistan

By Amir Hussain

The government faces a series of challenges in exercising its political writ in the remote regions of the country. But it seems to have no palpable plans to address the sense of deprivation, political exclusion and economic marginalisation that exist in those areas. There are a host of political problems which can easily be resolved with some effort and meagre resources by introducing an inclusive social policy framework to engage people as primary actors rather than isolating and incarcerating them.

Unreconstructed postcolonial states like Pakistan – which inherited a plethora of debilitating issues – are still fraught with the problems of territorial nationalism with legal and political infrastructure of bifurcated citizenship. The British colonial masters adopted the political instrument of indirect rule which strengthened the customary law for natives but reserved the civil law for settlers only. This created a political dichotomy of locals and non-locals which continues to date through nationalistic movements which claim their indigenous right to land, economy and culture and see outsiders as the enemy of indigenous political identities.

In the last 70 years, our political infrastructure could not be reconstructed and ethnic conflicts continue to dominate the political landscape of Pakistan. This political sentiment of local and non-local identities has become formalised to such an extent that our political, civil and economic institutions are marred by parochial conflicts of dominance on the basis of ethnicity and race. This phenomenon gets reinforced when political elite in the country use it as an instrument to rule people.

Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) presents a basket case of the institutionalisation of local and non-local dichotomy as a means of political control. This has penetrated the inner core of socio-political life, ranging from job distribution sans merit and transparency to civil services.

Last year, senior social development professionals from GB were interviewed for the position of a programme coordinator for a five-year programme funded by a UN agency. The project aimed to support the government of GB to promote community-based economic development across the region. The interviews were conducted by a panel that constituted the then chief secretary of GB, secretary planning and development, a senior consultant from the agency along with other officials.

Serious concerns were raised when the much-talked about values of transparency and meritocracy of the funding agency were compromised and a faux selection process was orchestrated by the officials of the government of GB and the agency. Those who appeared for the interview with the hope that merit would be respected instead say they felt that recruitment principles had been violated. Moreover, all subsequent grievance cases were quashed with visible impunity.

This is just one of those small instances that tend to aggravate the sense of deprivation and injustice among the educated youth of GB. There were allegations of bribery in the education department of GB during the stint of the previous government. Acts like these make a mockery of merit. There are many other instances that fuel the sense of exclusion in GB with a powerless chief minister and a toothless GB legislative assembly with no powers or capacity to deliver to the people.

The Self Governance and Empowerment Ordinance 2009 was introduced with the objective of improving governance and accountability by enhancing the political participation of the people of GB through legislative, administrative and legal reforms in the age-old system of indirect rule. While it was the right step towards the long-term goal of the economic and political emancipation of the people of GB, it was not an end in itself. It was more a means to build local political institutions, broaden economic choices by harnessing local resources and improve access to basic social services to attain the ultimate end of inclusive political representation under the ambit of the constitution of Pakistan.

The ordinance was promulgated in haste by the then federal government, and stops short of addressing the key issues vis-a-vis local civil services, judiciary and legislative powers of political representatives. For instance, strengthening local civil services could provide vibrant administrative instruments for a well-governed local setup but in reality, they were pushed to the margins. The local officers inducted through merit-based civil service exams by the Federal Public Service Commission for district administration, office management and police in PBS 17 can hardly scale their way up to BPS 19. With the promulgation of the 2009 ordinance, the share of federal officers in the local civil services has increased manifold over the years.

Key positions such as chief secretary, home secretary, IGP, finance secretary, planning and development secretary and secretary of services and general administration have been reserved for the federal officers and no local officer can be posted against these slots despite the fact that many local officers meet the requirements for these positions.

At present, out of the total ten district commissioners of GB, seven are non-locals and five of them are in BPS 17 including the Gilgit ADC who is a provincial service officer from Punjab. All non-local assistant commissioners are posted in eight district headquarters and only two assistant commissioners from GB are posted in the newly-created districts of Shigar and Kharmang.

Interestingly, the federal government promotes incompetence by sending some of its low-performing officers to assume critical positions in the civil services of GB. According to local leaders, some of these officers also face inquiries. There are internal reports of at least two such gentlemen who had been facing inquiries related to their inability to perform their jobs well before having been sent to GB.

These allegations may not be proven but the sense of deprivation gets deeper as non-local officers are deployed as senior officials of local civil services. There are many such examples that aggravate this sense of exclusion and alienation among the educated young population in GB. These are minor issues and the government can easily address them by allowing competent officers to assume critical roles in the local civil services.

The art of statecraft is not about coercing citizens to stay obedient to a repressive state but about the engagement of state and citizens in a quid pro quo by outlining the rights and duties of both parties. The modern state system constitutes a delicate and discernible relationship between legislation, administration and the judicial system where each component of the state is liable to an inbuilt system of accountability for the smooth functioning of a political and economic system. Pakistan needs to invest in human development, good governance, equitable resource distribution and inter-regional integration through a coherent political strategy. In the absence of these political prerequisites, long-term peace and prosperity can never be achieved.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

Email: ahnihal@yahoo.com

via The News

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