Islamabad denies residents of Gilgit-Baltistan of their democratic right


by Farooq Ganderbali
Like every election, the population of Pakistan goes to the polling stations for their election, but the inhabitants of the Gilgit-Baltistan region are denied their democratic right. A disputed territory, Gilgit-Baltistan has been occupied by Pakistan for seven decades in clear violation of international law. Its people exist in a democratic vacuum, lacking both their own autonomous government and equal participation in Pakistan’s democracy.
The nearly 9.2 million people belonging to Gilgit-Baltistan have to be content with just watching the electoral process from a distance. Since seven decades, the people of the region are barred from casting their votes for the National Assembly and the Senate.
Along with Pakistan-Occupied-Kashmir, GB is also part of the disputed regions of Pakistan, putting the state in a precarious position of providing the people of this region the rights that they deserve.
While the G-B Orders of 2009 and 2018 did bestow the region with some provincial powers, they failed to provide its population with the basic right to vote at the executive level. Arsalan Mehdi who is a resident of GB puts it quite succinctly, observing that “We are the prisoners of geography”.
In a conference jointly organised by the United Kashmir Peoples National Party and the Awami Worker Party last year, a call was made to seek amendments in the Interim Constitution Act, 1974, to ensure a fair and transparent election in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. Leading prominent lawyer and AWP president Abid Hassan Minto said that the present laws implemented in POK and Gilgit Baltistan are not representing the rights of the people of the region.
The POK is governed through the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Kashmir Council headed by Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan. Leaders at the conference deliberated that Pakistan officials dominate the Kashmir Council and that the Chief Secretary, the Inspector-General of Police, the Accountant-General and the Finance Secretary are all from Pakistan, even though the1974 Interim Constitutional act forbids any political activity, that is not in accordance with the doctrine of Jammu and Kashmir accession with Pakistan.
According to the UN resolution, the people of POK have special status. However, the situation is very much contradictory with all pledges, commitments made by Pakistan on different international forums. Section 4(7-(2)) of Interim Act restricts any person to participate in political activity who does not believe accession with Pakistan and the conference acceded that this section was a violation of the rights of self-determination and fundamental human rights of AJK people.
The government of Pakistan must fulfil its commitments towards the issue of POK and restore the rights of the people of POK and Gilgit Baltistan.