Parties and Politics in Gilgit-Baltistan

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Parties and Politics in Gilgit-Baltistan

GENESIS OF MODERN POLITICAL MOVEMENTS

The modern history of Gilgit-Baltistan seem anomalous to most of the historians of Pakistan. The reason for discordant note in the symphony of history of the nascent state is the different trajectory the region has taken. Despite different historical memory and experience, its history converged with Pakistan when the then government of Gilgit-Baltistan under the President Shah Rais Khan decided to join Pakistan after an independence movement of Gilgit-Baltistan against Dogras by the local cadre of Gilgit Scouts. Although, majority tend to see it as a military revolt, it was still a politics by means of arms if not political parties. Therefore, the movement can be treated as the first event in modern era which encompassed the whole of Gilgit-Baltistan and Ladakh.

Since its independence from Dogra Raj on November 1, 1947, the region of Gilgit-Baltistan has witnessed political vicissitudes. During the last 73 years various political parties emerged on the political landscape in response to indigenous political, economic and social issues. Many of these disappeared from the political scene, while some have succeeded to establish strong foothold in the region. Owing to different historical memory and indigenous nature of struggle for independence of the region, the political dynamics in Gilgit-Baltistan tend to be different from rest of Pakistan. It is the interface of local social, cultural, economic and political dynamics with the political system of Pakistan which determines the contours of power dispensation in Gilgit-Baltistan.

The first decade of post-independence period in Gilgit-Baltistan is dominated by political movements which sprang up as reactions to particular local events, but they could not survive for a long period because of the reason that they lacked clear and coherent political agenda and permanent political base. However, those movements contributed to the emerging political discourse in Gilgit-Baltistan. The movement for independence was spearheaded by the officers of the Gilgit-Scout. Soon after independence on November 1, 1947 Shah Rais Khan was declared president of independent state of Gilgit-Baltistan, which lasted for 16 days only. Although, the subaltern and officer cadre do not fulfill the definition of political party, they were force to be reckoned with because it is Gilgit Scouts that had succeeded to bring a change which had long lasting repercussions on politics in the following decades.  However, the freedom movement did not yield to more freedoms because its leadership did not have idea of what to do with freedom. The confusion and myopic vision can be imagined from the fact that the president of Gilgit-Baltistan, Raja Shah Rais Khan, preferred to abjure his position as the head of state and representative of people to a magistrate from the south, and opted for a position of officer at civil supply wheat depot. This mentality still pervades in political leadership of Gilgit-Baltistan.

On November 16, 1947 the ‘Revolutionary Council’ of Gilgit Scouts decided to annex Gilgit-Baltistan with the state of Pakistan. With transfer of reign to an officer of federal government, the power of Gilgit Scouts started to vane. Power altercation with bureaucracy and local officers of Gilgit Scouts has fueled political activities, for the question of power is basically a political question. Couple with this, the increasing power of political agent and decreasing power of revolutionaries increased political frustration. Finally, the first party ‘The Gilgit League’ was established in 1957. Since the region was ruled by draconian rule of Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR), the party demanded political freedom and democratic rights for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Its leadership demanded equal power and representation to Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistani political system. However, FCR was a major hurdle in achieving this goal. Soon after its formation, the Gilgit League disappeared from political scene as most of its key activists were given positions in various government departments in the region and across country.

After the failure of Gilgit-League a major vacuum in terms of political movements can be observed. The Gilgit-Baltistan Ladakh Jamhori Mahaz was established in late 1960s. It was a reactionary movement mainly against the foreign imposed establishment. It was the first nationalist movement that transcended the boundaries of state and tried to connect their brethren across the border in India. It sees people as victim of exogenous rule that has reduced status of people into slaves. Soon it became famous in Gilgit. Wazir Mehdi, Wazir Ashraf and Mohammad Ali (a converted Ladakhi Muslims) were important activists of this movement. The establishment of Pakistan again disbanded this movement. Gradually, the political movement of Jamhori Mahaz dissipated and most of its leadership was offered lucrative jobs in the government.

Until the mid-1970s Gilgit-Baltistan experienced emergence of political parties and movement which were product of local events and political dynamics. The major political issues of Pakistan did not cause a major political upheaval in the region. While analyzing political history of the region most of the political analysts tend to ignore role of regional and local political parties in the political process in Gilgit-Baltistan. Major local movements and political parties in the first two decades of independence include Tehrik-e-Taraqi Hunza and Hunza Nagar Liberation Movement. The former was formed by students in 1968 in Karachi. It aimed at ousting of Mir of Hunza from power. The latter was formed after the killing of 9 people because of firing by the army. It demanded abolishment of FCR, local princely states and a separate identity for the region.

The revolutionary leaders of independence movement were very active in political front initially, they were gradually co-opted by the state and they lost their influence by 1970. Among the local parties, Tanzeem-e-Millat (TM) is a turning point in the political history of Gilgit-Baltistan. Despite its short life TM left its mark on the historical memory of people for it was succeeded to bring its message to common people. Tanzeem-e-Millat was formed in a dramatic manner after a small incident in Girls Middle School in Gilgit in 1971. TM demanded end of FCR and sought equal political status for the region in the political system of Pakistan. Many of the prominent leaders of this movement were incarcerated in Haripur prison, where they for the first time interacted with the national parties in Pakistan.

Another major event in the political history of Gilgit-Baltistan is establishment of Pakistan People’s Party in 1971. PPP inducted large number of workers of TM within its fold. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto gradually dissolved different princely states in the region and abolished FCR and the last remaining princely state –Hunza- in 1974. Because regional parties did not have long term political agenda, they could not survive the drastic changes in political structure and administrative system introduced by PPP. Since then PPP has been dominating political scene in the region. Concomitant with introduction of new political and administrative system, the opening of Karakorum Highway (KKH) and development in communication and interaction with mainstream Pakistan, major political parties made inroad into the region.

After 1974, political activists in the region aligned their agenda and activities with new political and administrative set up. However, no local party emerged during this period. Speaking with this scribe, Malik Shah, the founding member of Pakistan People’s Party, in January 2013 stated that initially Johar Ali was against joining PPP but later he was convinced by local activist to join it. Malik claimed that soon after joining PPP, Johar Ali shared his apprehension that with the introduction of national level parties, the local political parties would die out. His fears came true in the subsequent decades. In addition, majority of the educated cadre that led the movement against local rajas joined government jobs, and thus coopted into state system. During General Zia-ul-Haq reign religious parties got state sponsorship and started covert activities in the areas. It is in this period the latent sectarian sentiment became visible in public spaces and religious organizations and parties started to emerge. These parties include Jamiat Ulama-e-Islam (F), Jamat Islami, Sipah Sahaba and Tehreek-Nafaz-e-Fiqah-Jafria (TNFJ). Pakistan Muslim League was established in 1986 during the rule of Mohammed Khan Junejo.

1988 was another major turning point in history of politics in Gilgit-Baltistan because it is for the first time sectarianism took a violent turn as several villages were burnt and hundreds of people were killed in armed conflict. Thereafter, religious organizations metamorphosed into political parties and became sole spokespersons of their respective sect. The connivance of state in 1988 in sectarian strife enabled TNFJ to capitalize the distrust of state by Shia community and propelled it into a strong party in the region. In the elections of Northern Areas Council TNFJ won 10 of 24 seats. However, other religious parties could not reap benefit from rising tide of sectarianism because their vote bank is largely concentrated in Diamer which is religiously conservative society, but dominated by caste and clan politics.

Though religious parties appeared to be active in 1980s, it was also a time which witnessed emergence of nationalist parties in Gilgit-Baltistan. Karakorum National Movement (KNM) was established in 1986. It was formed to secure the basic human and political rights to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Compared to other national parties it has presence in all parts of the region and able to secure a seat in local assembly. Another major national party is Balawaristan National Front. It was established in 1994. Now it has been divided into two factions of Naji and Hamid group. In 1980s and 1990s other small parties that came into being or established were Gilgit-Baltistan Jamhuri Mahaz, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, Awami National Party, Democratic Front of Northern Areas, Tanzeem ahl Sunnat Wal Jamat and Anjuman Imamia. It is trend in the politics of GB that the ruling party of centre always wins elections and forms government in the region. In the year 2003 Pakistan Muslim League (Q) was established in the region. It won the elections in 2004 and succeeded to form government in Gilgit-Baltistan.

The process of political development and parties over the period of 72 years has been accompanied by administrative and political reforms by the Government of Pakistan to meet the increasing demand of local people. A salient feature Gilgit-Baltistan vis-à-vis its status in Pakistan is that none of the constitutions of 1956, 1962 and 1973 of Pakistan recognized the region as its part. Chronology of major reforms is given as under:

  • Abolishing of Independent State of Gilgit and Appointment of Political Agent.
  • 1949: Agreement between Government of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan.
  • 1950: Establishment of Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas (KANA)
  • 1952: Appoint of a Joint Secretary of KANA Resident with all administrative and judicial authorities
  • 1967: Empowerment of Resident
  • 1969: Northern Areas Advisory Council (NAAC)
  • 1970: Establishment of Representative Body of Northern Areas
  • 1972: Re-designation of the post of Resident as Resident Commissioner
  • 1974: A Bhutto Reforms
  • 1977: Imposition of Martial Law and Zone E
  • 1985: Appointment of Advisor to Kashmir Affair
  • 1988: Appointment of Advisor to Prime Minister
  • 1994: Benazir Bhutto Reforms
  • 1999: Delegation of Legislative to the Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC)
  • 2005: Establishment of Apex Court
  • 2006: Empowerment of NALC
  • 2007: Changing name of NALC into Northern Areas Legislative Assembly
  • 2009: The Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order

The Self-Governance Order renamed Northern Areas into Gilgit-Baltistan, gave quasi province status to GB and empowered GBLA to legislate on 61 subjects. In the heels of this order, elections of GBLA were held. PPP won 21 of 33 seats and made a coalition government with coalition partners. Mehdi Shah is selected as the Chief Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan. After Mehdi Shah, Hafeez-ur-Rehman of PML-N succeeded to win 14 seats ins the elections of GBLA in 2015. In the elections of 2015 Majlis Wahdat Muslimeen and Pakistan Tehreek Islami won 2 seats each, whereas PPP, PTI , Balwaristan National Front (Naji) and JUI (F) succeeded to secure 1 seats each. 1 candidate was elected as an independent candidate but he joined PML (N) government soon after. PML (N) under the stewardship of Hafiz Hafeez-ur-Rehman succeed to   formed its government in Gilgit-Baltistan. The shocking aspect of elections was almost complete  sweep up of PPP from GBLA. However, later in the by elections of GBLA Nagar 2,  PPP managed to win additional seat. In 2018, the federal government introduced another order in 2018. Some critics deem this order as an act of reversing the powers given in 2009 governance order because in the order of 2018 because the Prime Minister is given an authority to veto any legislation passed by GBLA.

POLITICAL PARTIES ON THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE OF GILGIT-BALTISTAN:

Gilgit-Baltistan is home to diverse cultural, linguistic, religious, racial and regional groups. While chalking out a political strategy, political parties in the region have to take this diversity into cognizance. In terms of structure, organization, outreach, networking and democracy, political parties are not as organized as parties in other regions of Pakistan. Normally political parties lay dormant. They spring into action during the time of elections. One of the reasons for different working mechanism of political parties, even national parties, of Gilgit-Baltistan is the anomalous status of the region within the overall political, constitutional and administrative structure of Pakistan. That is why we witness holding of elections in the region in different period than the rest of Pakistan.

Due to absence of representation of people of GB in Parliament and Senate of Pakistan, mainstream political parties do not seriously take activities of their parties In GB, for elective representatives of GBLA bear no consequence on politics and parliament in Pakistan. The cumulative result of this anomaly and political indifference of mainstream parties in Pakistan makes working mechanism of political parties very narrow in which the broader picture and objectives of politics are marked by absence. Like most of the political parties in Pakistan, parties in Gilgit-Baltistan do not have internal democracy.

The attitudes and strategies of political parties in GB are to a large extent determined by local social and cultural dynamics. Even major political parties, such as PPP and PML (N), are perceived through lenses of sectarianism. Because of presence of large number of Shia community members in the leadership position of PPP, people tend to see it as a covertly Shia party, whereas some people view PML (N) a party sympathetic to Sunni cause. This view was largely consolidated during Zia era as suppression of political activities of parties including PPP were banned on the one hand, and the state gave leeway for new religious parties and groups to carry out their activities on the other. This perception has created hurdles for PPP to establish a foothold in District Diamer and PML (N) to take root in Ghizer District and regions of Hunza-Nagar in 1990s. PML (N) succeeded to break this invisible obstacle and disseminate its political message in these areas and across sectarian divide under the leadership of late Saif-ur-Rehman.

Since its establishment in the region PPP has been spearheaded by people who were products of the decade of 1960s. Until recently, it remained unchanged. Because of this the party leadership has failed to provide an upward mobility to its young cadres. As a corollary, young leaders were kept at bay in decision making. Young stalwarts of PPP covertly criticize its leadership for its apathetic attitude towards the young cadre and expediencies in allocation of tickets to candidates. During the last 45 years only a few old guards used to run the party affairs. Its long serving head, late Syed Zafar Shah advocate, opted for a senior government position just before GB Empowerment Package in 2009. This has left middle and lower cadre of leadership in quandary as party had not prepared anyone to assume leadership of PPP in Gilgit-Baltistan. After assuming power in new set up, PPP solely concentrated on consolidating its power in GBLA. As a result, it did not give enough time and energy to formulate a strategy for greater outreach.

One of the drawbacks of PPP’s local leadership was its overreliance of the charisma of late Benazir Bhutto and rides roughshod over the aspirations and demands of ranks and files. Under the influence of miasma the leadership wants to broaden its outreach of the party without organization of party at all levels. In addition, local events and dialectics of politics impinged upon the performance of PPP in election year of 2015. With a generation gap between young and old stalwarts, absence of organization and lack of outreach strategies to disseminate political message, PPP was almost wiped out from the political scene of Gilgit-Baltistan.

One of the important decisions of PPP  leadership in Gilgit-Baltistan with far reaching impacts was decision to confer seat of Deputy Speaker of GBLA to Jameel Ahmed and his appointment Senior Vice President of PPP Gilgit-Baltistan. At the same time Amjad Hussain was made the president of PPP Gilgit-Baltistan. Jamil’s assumption of a senior position within PPP enabled the party to make inroads into localities and communities wherein previously it was impossible because of the perception of PPP being covertly sectarian. At the same time Amjad Hussain tried to create a local narrative of PPP by launching a campaign for ‘haq-e-malkyat wa haq-e-hakimiyat (right for property and rule). The narrative has cogency to the objective conditions of Gilgit-Baltistan as the local communities are faced with threats of usurpation from big business and influential institutions. The increasing number of land disputes across GB points to the unease and simmering resentment against the state among masses. In the current election, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is also trying to hammer in same messages about right of property and rule across breath and width of Gilgit-Baltistan. For the 2020 election of GBLA, PPP appeared better prepared. After sessions of interviews with aspirant candidates, its central leadership announced list of candidates for different constituencies of Gilgit-Baltistan. It did not face any resistance within party cadre over the distribution of tickets. Early decision about candidates allow PPP to start election campaign earlier and more aggressively. PPP’s Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari came earlier on for a longer period to support PPP Gilgit-Balistan. This has allowed PPP, to capitalize the opportunity to fill in communication void in political arena.

In comparison PML (N) has developed a strong mechanism to ensure the participation of new cadre in party matters. Saif-ur-Rehman rose to the position of leadership from the cadre of worker. Hence, he was aware about importance of organization of party for upward mobility of workers. In 1990s PML (N) developed a strong mechanism to ensure broader outreach, networking and participation of new cadre in party affairs. It helped the party to broaden its vote bank in 1990s and first half of 2000. However, the expansion of vote bank of PML (N) seemed to be stunted after defection of its member to PML (Q). Its leadership and activists were active in networking in different regions of GB. Couple with active campaign for new membership, it tried to woo its old members into its folds. These efforts helped the  party in getting majority in GBLA election in 2015. During its stint in power, PML (N) showed better performance as it initiated a large number of projects in public work, health and education. Also, an efficient team in the cabinet helped Chief Minister GB to disseminate its messages through diverse channels including modern social media. Despite some achievements of PML (N), it is still struggling to gain popular votes in the elections of November 2020. It is mainly due to the reason that most of ministers in the former Chief Minister’s, Hafeez-ur-Rehman, cabinet defected to PTI. In a damning speech Hafeez himself expressed his anger with defection in a speech in a public gathering October 2020. Such defection show internal weakness within PML (N) as its  policy of bringing back old stalwarts from other parties has made it over reliant on electables. As a result, personality have superseded the ideology of party. Also, procrastination of announcement of PML (N) candidates for 24  constituencies of GBLA on behalf of its leadership has contributed to confusion on ground. Even when the names of candidates are announced, the candidates did not cover all constituencies. Initially, announcement was made for 18 constituencies. This has  delayed activities of PML (N) in the field. Such delays can have impact on communication and dissemination of PML (N) election agenda as the space has already cramped by earlier activities of other contending parties and individuals.

PML (Q) reigned NALC during the period of President General Pervez Musharraf. Now the party has lost it patron in chief in the centre and rely mostly on personalities not organizational structure and political agenda. It has neither a strategy for outreach, nor has local agenda. Therefore, it has no chances of even a single seat in the forthcoming elections.

A new development in Gilgit-Baltistan was the entry of Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in political arena in GBLA elections of 2009. Gilgit-Baltistan is not a feudal society and majority of its population belongs to middle, lower middle and lower class. MQM has fertile ground to get it rooted in the region as its support for middle class rule is in sync with objective realities of society. In 2009 lection, MQM relied on preponderates or GB migrants residing in Karachi, then on grass root level interaction. A combination of influential personalities, strong organizational background, financial support to candidates and sympathies of GB migrants in Karachi enabled  MQM to win 1 seat and gave tough time to other parties in seats in Hunza, and Gilgit, But by 2015, it did not perform well. Although, the splinter group of MQM, PSP has field some candidates, its presence in among masses is non-existence as a party.

Gilgit-Baltistan has seen emergence of various nationalist parties and movements since its independence in 1947. These movements can be divided into two categories: 1) Pre 1980s and 2) post 1980s nationalist parties. Unlike nationalists of first category, the latter succeeded to sustained over a long period and gradually made inroads in political arena, though their outreach is not as vast as major political parties. Nationalist parties mostly rely on traditional networks of kinship than interest based organizations. Currently, there are various nationalist parties and groups. Among these, Karakorum National Movement (KNM) and Balawaristan National Front (BNF) Naji is conspicuous by their presence in public space and political debate. This year, Balawaristan National Front (Hameed) leader renounced his nationalist ideology and activities as blunders committed at the behest of Indian agencies. With this announcement politics of his faction of party came to the end.

In the elections after 1988 KNM gave tough time to some of the candidates of major political parties. In 2004 one of its leaders was elected to NALC but latter defected to PML (Q). An unnoticed development in KNM political career is that its influence is increasing at grass roots level as many of its candidate succeeded to win seats of Union Council and District Council. Its efforts to outreach non-voters have been hampered because of absence of strong organizational structure and lack of communication channels to disseminate its manifesto. In spite of its old connections with every part of the region and nationalist message, there is little chance that KNM will win more than 1 seat in the next elections.

BNF (N) chief Nawaz Khan Naji won seat of GBLA Ghizer 1 in by-elections in 2011 and in general elections of 2015. He has followers in other parts of Gilgit, but his power base is district Ghizer. BNF has organized youth in different cities of Pakistan. Besides other means of communication and linkages, BNF also reaches to its voters and non-voters through social media and other modern communication mediums. However, its mechanism suffers from loopholes that are typical of other nationalist parties in the region. Martin Sokefeld thinks that “it is quite difficult to assess the strength of nationalist oppositional parties such as the Balawaristan National Front or the Karakorum National Movement in terms of membership because for political reasons there are no formal provisions such as member lists or regular fees.”[1] Although, Nawaz Naji has a strong support base in Ghizer, he could not expand his party beyond his constituency in other parts of Ghizer and Gilgit-Baltistan. GBLA Ghizer 1 will have strong contest between BNF (Naji), PPP and PTI. This constituency is home of late  Pir Karam Ali Shah. During his life time, Pir Karam Ali Shah remained undefeated. Nawaz Khan Naji managed to win twice only in his absence.  This time Pir Karam Ali Shah’s son Syed Jalal Ali Shah is contesting the seat from PPP ticket. Pir Karam Ali Shah passed away this year. It is yet to be seen whether the sympathy votes can have impact on votes in the locality. At the same time it is litmus test of Nawaz Naji to prove whether Naji’ popularity can withstand Syed Jalal Ali Shah’s presence.

After GBLA election of 2009, Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) geared up its activities to broaden its membership base and reach to the masses with its message. Its appeal mostly attracts youth and disaffected supporters of other parties. Still PTI in the region is not as organized as it is in other parts of Pakistan. PTI’s local leaders are cherry picked by leadership in the centre. Majority of its leaders and members are comprised of people who remained on the fringes of politics. Late Syed Jafar Shah organized the party after his assuming the position of its president. Unfortunately,  his untimely demise of in October 2020 was a sever blow to the party. PTI has fielded candidates in different constituencies of GB, but its supporters and leadership in constituencies are divided over distribution of party tickets. The infighting in PTI will have direct impact on voters in the election. However, the leadership is confident of winning majority seats. This confidence stems from historical precedence as Gilgit-Baltistan tend to vote for the party that rules the centre. As compared to PPP and PML (N), the central party of PTI entered into political activities quite late. It is mainly because PTI in the centre were too much preoccupied with the issues in the centre. It appears that PTI in the centre took lackadaisical approach towards Gilgit-Baltistan initially. This has created a vacuum within party. The current wrangling and infighting is the result of that gap.

In 2015 election, Awami Workers Party’s (AWP) incarcerated leader Baba Jan contested GBLA Hunza 6 from Jail. He stood second in elections. The sudden increase in popularity of AWP ruffled the feathers of some quarters and traditional politician. Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan won the seat but later he opted to become the Governor of Gilgit-Baltistan. In his stead, his son Saleem Khan won the seat in 2016. However, the election termed unfair as his main opponent Baba Jan was disqualified by sentencing him for 70 years in jail along with other incarcerated political prisoners from Hunza,, whereas Saleem Khan was allowed to contest despite his being defaulter of bank loans. In April 2018, Saleem Khan was disqualified. Since then, Hunza remained without any representation in GBLA. This has increased resentment among the masses of Hunza against the system. In the current elections, AWP nominated Asif Sakhi as his candidate from GBLA Hunza 6. In the by-election of 2016 in Hunza, AWP candidate Akhon Bai got 1,291 votes. It shows that AWP gets more votes on the basis of personality of Baba Jan than its ideology. An increase or decrease in number of votes of AWP will either invalidate or validate the thesis of personality centric vote.

After the sectarian tensions of 1988, the region witnessed rise of sectarian parties in political arena. Religious parties appeared to be dominating the political scene in the decade of 1990s, but they have witnessed decline in overall vote bank.  Since 2015, Gilgit-Baltistan has remained immune from sectarian violence, and influence of religious parties seems waning over the time, but religious sentiment still play an important role in election of candidates and adjustment. For the foreseeable future, religion will remain an integral part of the politics of Gilgit-Baltistan.

CONCLUSION:

The 2020 elections for Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) in 2020 has propelled political parties and individuals into action in otherwise dormant political arena in Gilgit-Baltistan. According to a report of FAFEN, there are 745,361 voters in the 2020 Gilgit-Baltistan voters’ list. Out of these 339,998 (46%) are women. The figures reflect as many as 65,365 more men registered compared to women. [2] There are 323 contenders in the current GBLA elections. PPP has fielded maximum candidates (23), followed by PML (N) (21), and PTI (21). Other parties including Pakistan Muslim League 15, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Pakistan with 12 candidates, Islami Tehreek Pakistan 8, Muttahida Quami Movement Pakistan 4, and 199 independent candidates.

Holding of the elections in different time and space from the rest of Pakistan shows anomalous political structures that are prevalent in Pakistani political system. In addition, geography, cultural and socio-economic dynamics of Gilgit-Baltistan make its politics different from the rest of country. These factors directly contribute to the emergence of a particular political class and determine the voting patterns in GB.

An important factor that will influence election results in Gilgit-Baltistan is the overall cultural outlook and social set up in the region.  Ideally, election is contested by different parties on the basis of what they offer in manifestos. But because of complex social set up and cultural ethos people cast their vote not to serve the common interest of his or her interest group but rather on the basis of personality. The importance of personality based politics increases if a constituency is inhabited by different racial group. The kinship based politics and election is stronger in some constituencies of Gilgit but stronger in Diamer district where people from Sheen and Yashkun race are dominant. Therefore, large scale political propaganda and well thought out manifestos will not work in the region in general, and Diamer in particular. as people will ultimately vote on the basis of kinship.’ [3] Unlike the regions of Gilgit, Hunza, Nagar, Ghizer, Diamer and Astor, the region of Baltistan is racially, religiously and linguistically homogenous to great extent. Therefore, its electoral dynamics, to some extent, is at variance with other regions.

For last 16 years a common trend is emerging across the region. It is the appearance of a rich entrepreneur class who benefited from the trade and commerce on KKH, tourism industry, timber trading, contractors, and transportation. In the past elections they have defeated royals, strong candidates of religious parties and party heads. Already, members of this class have contested from tickets of major political parties and won important seats. Given their success in the past and influence in electorate, this class will play an instrumental role in the formation of political contours of Gilgit-Baltistan in the coming years.

At national level the political parties in Gilgit-Baltistan will be important players in deciding the future path of the region. Until now the region has remained in constitutional limbo, because they did not have representation in any forum in the Centre where decision and policy making institutions are based. Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment Orders of 2009 and 2018 have provided a platform in the shape of Gilgit-Baltistan Council to bring local concerns into the notice of federal governments, but all the aspiration of people’s representatives can be cancelled with a single stroke of pen by the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Whatever powers vested by these orders, these are still orders. A society cannot be ruled by orders. To  create a new order a new social contract is needed. Therefore, it is imperative to empower local people to have their rule and system. This new system should be guaranteed through constitution not through orders. With constitutional guarantees the region can be able negotiate issues of royalties over dams, rivers, royalties and other financial matters. Every election in Gilgit-Baltistan witness flurry of activities and plethora of announcements. These are just eyewash and ad hoc pronouncements for electoral gains. Such short terms measures cannot address  long term issues stemming from the liminality of Gilgit-Baltistan within the  overall power structure of Pakistan.

On the other hand, the region has been made hostage to Kashmir conflict because it did not have any say in the dispute. With more powers to members of GBLA the onus of representation of aspirations of local people in international fora rests on members of political parties. GB is the geo-strategically important area of Pakistan. Political parties of GB will enact their role in negotiations pertaining to Gilgit-Balistan vis-à-vis Kashmir imbroglio for it is directly related to region and affects its political status; thereby influence every sphere of life.

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[1] Sökefeld, Martin, From colonialism to postcolonial colonialism. The Journal of Asian Studies; Nov 2005; 64, 4; Page 961

[2]  Women in Elections: Analysis of Registered Voters in  Gilgit-Baltistan November 2020 in Elections: Analysis. FAFEN. November 2020. P 3.  of

[3] Ali, Farman and Dad, Aziz Ali, Dad. Election Chatter. Herald. November 2009 Issue.

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