Time to fulfil Bhutto’s promises

Weekly Bang-e-sahar Saturday,April 5-11,2008
Because of decades of deprivation and broken promises, the two million people of Gilgit-Baltistan have lived on hopes pinned on one government after the other for the last over 60 years. In the 1970s, PPP founding chairman and the country’s first elected prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for the first time realised the sufferings of the people and took practical steps to resolve them. Among other things, he abolished the black laws including the FCR. However, Bhutto was soon removed from the political scene before he could fulfil all his promises made with the people. In return for Bhutto’s services, people of Gilgit-Baltistan always supported his party by sending its nominees in great number to the local council and legislative assembly. This shows that the people still have great expectations from Bhutto’s party and believe that only the PPP can fulfil their aspirations. Today the PPP has got yet another opportunity to materialize the late Bhutto’s promises made with the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. The constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan needs no explanation here. Being a central party to the Kashmir dispute, it is not possible to amalgamate the region into a province or make it a separate province. If there are any such demands they are only a product of lack of knowledge of the whole issue. Under the current circumstances, only the AJK type of setup can be visualized for Gilgit-Baltistan. However, that is in no way acceptable to the people considering the fact that all affairs in Muzaffarabad are controlled by civilian and military bureaucracy of Pakistan. Gilgit-Baltistan’s people seek establishment of an independent and powerful legislative assembly and want to maintain their own cultural and social identity in any future dispensation. If fulfilled, both these demands would also be in the best interest of Pakistan. The people of the region also want that they should not be made a scapegoat in the Kashmir dispute and should be given their basic rights keeping in view their strategic importance. They also want a say in all future parleys between Pakistan and India over the Kashmir issue. President Musharraf had lately tried to appease the people by introducing a so-called constitutional package which drew adverse reaction not only from the masses but also from those who were in the presidential camp till recently. People of the area expect that the PPP would undo all injustices meted out to them, and empower them through establishment of a powerful and truly representative assembly. There should be no room for the post of chairman. At present, federal minister for Northern Areas and Kashmir affairs holds the post and enjoys all powers. The assembly should be the source of all powers and should elect the chairman. And most importantly, all posts including that of the chief executive should be given to the locals. If officials from outside are sent here as chief secretary or heads of departments, people from Gilgit-Baltistan should also be appointed on such lucrative posts in other parts of Pakistan. Last but not the least, people also look towards the PPP-led government for bringing an end to the rampant violations of human rights in the region. This can only be made possible through empowering the people politically. The new government should not repeat the mistakes of the previous governments to give powers to those opportunist politicians who always changed loyalties. It is time the government of two mainstream political parties in Islamabad realized the gravity of the situation and took drastic actions to safeguard the political, social and economic rights of the people of Gilgit-Balitistan which they have long been denied.


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