Political and Social Issues in Gilgit Baltistan

Gilgit-Baltistan is a region located in the northern part of Pakistan, bordering China, Afghanistan, and Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir. The region is also known as the Northern Areas of Pakistan and was historically part of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. Despite its breathtaking and mesmerizing locations, some political and social issues need to be highlighted. I Mehwish from will discuss some of them.

Political Issues:

  • Ambiguous constitutional status:

One of the main political issues in Gilgit-Baltistan is its ambiguous constitutional status. The region is not recognized as a separate province of Pakistan and has no representation in the National Assembly of Pakistan. The Pakistani government refers to Gilgit-Baltistan as a “semi-autonomous” region and has appointed a governor to oversee the region’s administration.

Historically, it was part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, but it came under the control of Pakistan in 1947-48. Since then, the region has been administered by Pakistan as a de facto province, but its constitutional status has not been clarified. In 2009, Pakistan introduced the Gilgit Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, which gave the region a semi-autonomous status and established an elected legislative assembly. However, the order did not clarify the constitutional status of Gilgit Baltistan, and the region still does not have representation in the Pakistani parliament. The ambiguity of Gilgit Baltistan’s constitutional status has been a subject of political debate and controversy. Some political parties and activists in Gilgit Baltistan have demanded that the region be given full provincial status and representation in the Pakistani parliament, while others have argued that such a move could complicate the ongoing dispute between Pakistan and India over the status of Jammu and Kashmir.

  • Constitutional rights:

Furthermore, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan have been demanding constitutional rights for years. They have been seeking representation in Pakistan’s National Assembly, along with the right to elect their local government officials. However, the Pakistani government has been reluctant to grant these rights, citing concerns over the potential impact on the broader Kashmir dispute.

Currently, Gilgit-Baltistan has a limited form of self-governance, but it is not fully represented in Pakistan’s federal government. The region does not have a constitution, and its residents do not enjoy the same constitutional rights as citizens in other parts of Pakistan. One of the most significant issues related to constitutional rights in Gilgit-Baltistan is the lack of representation in Pakistan’s parliament. The region has its legislative assembly, but it does not have the power to make laws or oversee key areas such as defense, foreign affairs, and finance. Additionally, residents of Gilgit-Baltistan are not allowed to vote in national elections or hold key positions in the federal government. Another issue related to constitutional rights in Gilgit-Baltistan is the lack of legal protection for fundamental rights. While Pakistan’s constitution guarantees certain fundamental rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and assembly, these rights do not apply in Gilgit-Baltistan. For example, the region has no legal framework for protecting the freedom of the press, and journalists have faced censorship and intimidation from authorities.

Social Issues:

  • Poverty:

In addition to the political issues, there are also several social issues facing Gilgit-Baltistan. One of the most pressing social issues is poverty, with a large proportion of the population living below the poverty line. Another issue is the lack of access to basic amenities such as healthcare, education, and clean drinking water. Additionally, the region’s remote and mountainous geography presents significant challenges for infrastructure development.

According to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, the poverty rate in Gilgit-Baltistan was around 45% in 2018-2019. This means that nearly half of the population in the region lives below the poverty line, which is defined as earning less than $1.90 per day. The poverty in Gilgit-Baltistan is mainly caused by a lack of economic opportunities, poor infrastructure, and limited access to education and healthcare. The region is primarily dependent on agriculture and tourism, which are vulnerable to natural disasters and seasonal variations. Furthermore, the lack of access to modern technology and training prevents people from developing their skills and taking advantage of new job opportunities.

Moreover, the region’s remote location and rugged terrain make it challenging to provide basic services such as healthcare and education. This situation is worsened by the lack of investment in infrastructure such as roads, electricity, and water supply.

  • Sectarianism:

Another significant social issue in Gilgit-Baltistan is sectarianism. The region is home to diverse ethnic and religious groups, including Shia and Sunni Muslims, Ismaili Muslims, and other minority groups. In recent years, there have been incidents of sectarian violence, which have further exacerbated tensions between different communities in the region.

Unfortunately, sectarianism has been a problem in Gilgit-Baltistan for many years. The region has a history of sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia Muslims, which has resulted in many deaths and injuries over the years. The conflict is rooted in differences in religious beliefs and practices, as well as political and economic factors. One of the main causes of sectarianism in Gilgit-Baltistan is the lack of economic development and opportunities. The region has limited resources, and the local population has struggled to find employment and access to basic services like education and healthcare. This has led to frustration and anger among some groups, who blame others for their economic difficulties. Religious differences have also played a role in the sectarian conflict in Gilgit-Baltistan. Sunnis and Shias have different religious practices and beliefs, and some members of each group have used these differences to justify violence and discrimination against the other.

Despite these challenges, there have been efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in Gilgit-Baltistan. Civil society organizations and religious leaders have worked to promote dialogue and understanding between different communities. The government has also taken steps to address economic and social issues in the region, although progress has been slow. Sectarianism is a complex problem in Gilgit-Baltistan, rooted in economic, political, and religious factors. Addressing these underlying issues will be necessary to promote peace and stability in the region.

Gilgit-Baltistan faces a range of complex political and social challenges that will require sustained effort and investment to overcome.

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