Islamabad : The Imran Khan government is soon going to illegally integrate the occupied Gilgit-Baltistan region by making it Pakistan’s fifth province.
Pakistani newspaper Express Tribune quoted Minister of ‘Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan Affairs’ Ali Amin Gandapur as saying on Wednesday that the government has decided to “elevate Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) to the status of a full-fledged province with all constitutional rights, including its representation in the Senate and the National Assembly.”
Prime Minister Khan would soon visit the region and make the formal announcement in this regard, Gandapur said. “Gilgit-Baltistan would be given adequate representation on all constitutional bodies, including the National Assembly and the Senate. After consultation with all stakeholders, the federal government has decided in principle to give constitutional rights to Gilgit-Baltistan,” the minister told a delegation of journalists from G-B, the newspaper reported.
“Our government has decided to deliver on the promise it made to the people there,” the minister said adding that the subsidy and tax exemption on wheat given to the region would continue. “Until the people there stand on their feet, they will continue to get the subsidies,” Gandapur said, acknowledging deprivation of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan for the last 73 years.
About the upcoming elections in the region, Gandapur said that voting would be held in mid-November and the distribution of party tickets to candidates would begin soon. He also revealed that the ruling party of Pakistan, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) can enter into an electoral alliance with any local party but not with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
Several rights activists from Pakistan-occupied Jammu & Kashmir (PoJK) and G-B have been critical of the polls, arguing that Imran Khan’s objective is to establish a government of its own choice through elections and subsume in Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan.
Under the current circumstances, free and fair elections in Gilgit are impossible because of the colonial Schedule IV and Anti-Terrorism Act which are used to crush civil dissent by arresting people and censoring them if they express their political views, activists have argued.
Recently, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), in a searing report, slammed the federal government for nullifying Gilgit Baltistan’s province-like status granted in 2009 as per the Empowerment and Self-Governance Order. The federal government in 2018 withdrew whatever “negligible powers” that had been delegated to the region, the commission said.
The HRCP also lamented the disenfranchisement of people in Gilgit-Baltistan, saying that the 2018 order annulled the Gilgit-Baltistan Council which had local representation and gave excessive powers to Pakistan’s Prime Minister.