The situation in Gilgit Baltistan (GB) on the issue of wheat and electricity shortage has been very disturbing for the region and its people.
With the winter setting in, serious food and electricity shortages have led to strong criticism against the government in GB and the PTI leadership which heads the government there. Bitterness and frustration in the population has grown over the years with growing instances of challenges they are having to face in the given circumstances.
While the present situation has blown into an intra-political conflict between the political parties, with the PPP and other parties accusing the PTI of creating the present situation, the fact remains that successive governments in GB have mercilessly exploited the natural resources of GB and indulged in land-grabbing rendering the people of GB victims of exploitation. Moreover, GB politicians are dissociated from the reality on ground and are not keen to understand the woes of the people. This has led to a serious lack of trust between the government and the people.
People in GB have been accusing PTI leaders of highly callous and apathetic attitude towards GB residents, and that they seem to be unaffected by the sufferings of the people of GB. Residents of the region claim that they do not expect much from the government as no efforts have been made yet by the authorities to undertake recovery measures to cope with the flood devastations which rendered thousands homeless and jobless. And now with the winter setting in, the locals do not expect much in terms of redressal of issues faced by them.
The electricity shortage is so acute that there is only 2 to 3 hours of electricity available daily which has rendered the local industry worthless, snatching away the livelihood of several hundred people.
Adding to their woes is rampant corruption and misuse of power by local bureaucrats who have been indulging in nepotism and extortion while the ordinary individual continues to suffer. Another issue which has been impacting local sentiments is the blatant manner in which land-grabbing has taken place in the region. Locals are disturbed at the brazenness with which politicians and bureaucrats have been indulging in flagrant violation of property norms and handing over large patches of land to Chinese companies.
The youth are the worst-affected as they do not see any future for themselves in GB, especially since scope for education and employment remain remote. There have been several instances of people committing suicide due to the dire situation. Cases of psychological disorder has also become common among them leading to serious social issues. The absence of medical facilities for treating such form of illnesses has only made the situation more worst.
Politicising the matter, the PPP has threatened jamming roads and highways in GB in case the issues are not addressed. Senior PPP leader Sharafat Hussain King said in a statement in Gilgit on December 8 that the people of GB have tolerated misgovernance of the provincial government thus far, but this would not continue for long.
He alleged that the GB CM and his ministers were spending crores of rupees on their luxurious lifestyles while the people are desperately struggling to survive.
Sharafat Hussain also called upon Imam of Juma Wal Jamaat, Agha Rahat Hussain and Khatib of Jama Masjid Gilgit, Maulana Qazi Nisar Ahmed to play their roles in making the public protest successful.
JeI Amir Maulana Abdul Samih, addressing a meeting of local JeI leaders in Gilgit said on December 9 that while the people of GB were facing a dire situation with the wheat and electricity crisis, the politicians were busy playing games. He described the performance of the PTI government as highly disappointing and said that problems of the people were increasing day by day.
Former member of GB Assembly and President of Pakistan Rah-e-Haq Party GB, Himayatullah Khan in a statement in Gilgit alleged that GB government blatantly violated the norms set for appointment of woman health workers recently, leading to serious protests among prospective applicants for the job.
In this backdrop, protests are being organised in GB by representatives of the Awami Action Committee Gilgit Baltistan (AACGB) besides other smaller groups. The AACGB held a massive rally in GB on December 11. Thousands of people and leaders and activists belonging to Awami Action Committee, Anjuman-e-Tajiran, Transporters associations, Gilgit-PakhtunWelfare Organisation, Karakoram National Movement, Balawaristan National Front, Hotel Association of GB, Shopping Malls Association and various political and Islamist parties and organisations participated in the rally.
Former chairman AAC Sultan Raees, in his speech on December 11 announced that all stakeholders and people of GB, including businessmen and transporters have expressed their strong opposition to the government by joining the protest. He reiterated that while the government has to address the issues affecting normal life in GB on priority, at the same time he warned that if anyone attempted to manipulate the resources of GB or indulged in land grabbing, he would be dealt with firmly by the people of the region.
This is the first time that the degree of frustration evident among the people has reached such serious proportions that it could lead to physical action challenging the security forces. In such a situation there is a possibility of the government resorting to strong hand tactics to control the situation which in turn might lead to further disenchantment among the locals.
The situation remains no different in PoK where similar issues have distanced the people from the government in power. This leads one to ponder that Pakistan has indeed failed to generate goodwill among the people of these critical regions. Comparatively, the situation in J and K is one of peace and prosperity with the aspirations of the people being fulfilled.