gilgit baltistan political rights

Written by Wazir Zafar Hassan 5:49 pm Opinion, Published Content

Voices Unheard in Pakistan’s General Elections: The Paradox of Gilgit Baltistan’s Political Rights

Wazir Zafar Hassan laments the political status of Gilgit Baltistan (GB), especially since the residents of the GB area do not have the right to vote in the general elections of Pakistan. He raises his concerns in the hopes that he and the rest of the people of GB will be able to secure political representation in the National Assembly.
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About the Author(s)
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Wazir Zafar Hassan is a graduate student of international relations with an interest in modern warfare and the politics of the Middle East and South Asia.

The 2024 general elections of Pakistan recently concluded with no party achieving the majority to form a government and hence unable to elect the new Prime Minister of Pakistan on its own. The national and international media are raising questions about the credibility and fairness of the elections. However, one question unrelated to election fairness, the people of Gilgit Baltistan are being asked: whom did you vote for? The question shows the paradox of Gilgit Baltistan’s political and constitutional rights, as the millions of people in Gilgit Baltistan have no right to vote or political representation in Pakistan’s parliament.

Since 1947-48, after the liberation of the region by locals from the oppressive Dogra Rule, the Gilgit Baltistan area has been under the administration of Pakistan. Yet, more than 70 years have passed, and Pakistan has failed to give constitutional rights to Gilgit Baltistan’s residents. The Gilgit Baltistan Assembly, which is the region’s lawmaking body, has limited powers, but the GB Council, headed by the PM of Pakistan, enjoys much more power.

The lack of representation and political rights is causing a feeling of distrust and marginalization among the people of Gilgit Baltistan. Although elections in Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistan occur at different times, the electoral process of Gilgit Baltistan is not immune from the political landscape in the centre. The last election held in GB for the Gilgit Baltistan Assembly was on 15th November 2020. It is to be noted that the main political parties of Pakistan contested in the Gilgit Baltistan elections; the Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) gained victory, and at that time, the PTI was in power.

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Based on the election results, it is a common assumption that the party in power always wins the elections in Gilgit Baltistan. The political voices of Gilgit Baltistan always remain unheard in the controlled mainstream media of Pakistan. Recently, there were massive protests in the whole region against the state’s policies that affect the region’s people and their political rights. The media showed no interest in the massive protests, which fueled the situation, instilling a feeling of marginalization in the people.

These protests and the lack of representation in the parliament give the third party a chance to exploit the situation. The Indian media covered the protests but with a distorted version. It is worth mentioning here that five seats are reserved for Gilgit Baltistan and Kashmir in the Lok Sabha (lower house) and one in the Rajya Sabha (upper house) of the Indian parliament. Due to this, many people in Gilgit Baltistan ask a question: if India can reserve representation for us, why not the parliament of Pakistan?

Gilgit Baltistan has a poor health and education system with no law, medical, or engineering colleges. More than two million people inhabit the region and have a higher literacy rate than the other regions of Pakistan. However, the region has only two general-category universities, which lack proper infrastructure and quality research. 

The region’s strategic importance, however, can’t be ignored as it is a gateway to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The region’s mineral resources and rising tourism industry attract the state’s attention. To address the unheard voices of Gilgit Baltistan, the state of Pakistan must address the grievances of the people of Pakistan by empowering and taking the Gilgit Baltistan government in confidence.

The state has already given a provisional constitutional status to Gilgit Baltistan, and considering the Kashmir issue, representation of Gilgit Baltistan should be given in Pakistan’s parliament. While addressing any matters concerning Gilgit Baltistan, the presence of the region’s representatives is necessary. Also, the ill-timed elections in Gilgit Baltistan need consideration, and the electoral processes in the region and Pakistan should take place simultaneously, which will result in strengthening the electoral process with minimum interference from the centre.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article/paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Paradigm Shift.

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