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Bureaucrats are ruining the lives of the people of Gilgit Baltistan

The people of Pakistan occupied Gilgit Baltistan continue to suffer due to the complete apathy of the Pakistani state to provide them the necessities of life. The latest instance in this misadventure is the prolonged unavailability of electricity, mobile services, and internet connectivity, in many cases around 22 hours of disruptions every day continuously for several months. This has significantly affected the social and economic conditions in Gilgit Baltistan, prompting widespread dissatisfaction among the local population. Those involved in online businesses, students, and professionals have become jobless due to the blackout.The history of Gilgit Baltistan is replete with such instances and recent developments have only reinforcedthis trend. Given the apathy of the bureaucracy towards the people, it is unlikely that the situation will change for the better. 

Dr. Sakariya Kareem writing in Asian Lite argues correctly states that bureaucrats, mostly on deputation from Pakistan, don’t care about the well-being of the people of Gilgit Baltistan, who have been battling against all odds for basic living standards. One immediate demand is that the government should provide them with adequate wheat flour. The government, on its part withdrew the subsidy on wheat which is the lifeline for thousands of poor and needy residents of Gilgit Baltistan. The reason why people of Gilgit Baltistan are forced to come out on the streets and block highways was the complete inability of government officials to supply adequate wheat flour. It is well known that many bureaucrats are involved in hoarding and smuggling of wheat flour. Pakistan violated the UN Resolutions in 1949 when they created a Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Baltistan to rule the territory they had illegally occupied. Therefore, through the years, Islamabad has indirectly ruled Gilgit Baltistan, which has led to the situation of the complete lack of empathy for the condition of the people. 

The majority of areas in Gilgit Baltistan, including Gilgit and Skardu, have experienced over 22 hours of power load shedding and, disrupted 4G internet services. Onelocal resident pointed out that mobile and internet availability depends on electricity supply, which is already limited. Mobile service providers activate towers only when electricity is available, leaving students, professionals, and individuals from all walks of life severely affected. Housewives and students are particularly affected due to the unavailability of electricity, impacting essential activities like cooking, lighting, mobile charging, and clothing pressing. The situation has worsened on the eve of Ramadan. Even Chief Minister Haji Gulbar Khan has experienced the bureaucratic ineptitude. Gulbar Khan had called for a meeting of Water and Power officials, but the Chief Engineer, Baltistan region Ghulam Murtaza remained absent. The Chief Minister reportedly got angry and asked Raja Nasir Ali Khan, Minister of Planning and Development to punish the guilty officer. He also stated that the Chief Engineer’s absence has only added to the woes of the people. 

Nazir Ahmed Advocate, Speaker of the so-called Gilgit Baltistan Assembly, converted these complaints into public petitions for action under the Assembly’s rules of procedure. He highlighted the severe impact of internet service disruption on students and routine work for both government and non-government employees. The Speaker formed a Special Committee to address the issue and seek a permanent and alternative solution. Pakistan officials, tasked to look after the welfare of the far-flung region of Gilgit Baltistan, are playing with the lives of hard-pressed people with their callous attitude and behaviour. The region lacks power and water, good roads, and essential services. Thanks to the bureaucracy, the region has become one of the poorestregions of Pakistan, another Balochistan in the making!

This is one of the numerous instances of Pakistani officials employed in Gilgit Baltistan behaving like `kings`, proving time and again their attitude towards public welfare. Local people note that this attitude has intensified over the years, as the government does not recruit the youth from the local area. Most officials are deputed from Punjab and other regions in Pakistan and are usually so arrogant that they do not bother to consult or talk to local communities about public welfare in Gilgit Baltistan. There have often been clashes between officials and the local population. In one incident, last year an Assistant Commissioner of Gojal, Hunza Rao Rafy Afzal sealed a restaurant. His rude behaviour and threatening tone went viral on social media forcing his boss to cancel the sealing order. In 2009, there was some relief when the Federal Government issued the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, paving the way for the decentralisation of power to the local Assembly and Municipal bodies. Unfortunately, nothing concrete has taken place since then. 

One recent incidence that proves continued bureaucratic indifference are the protests by hundreds of government employees of the Maternal Child Programme (MNCH), outside Muzaffarabad CM Secretariat. Employees complained that their full salaries had not been paid for a long time. During the sit-in, protesters raised slogans and held banners, complaining that there is no set pattern and procedure for promotion, regularisation, and payment of salaries.One of the protestors warned, “We have today come here to show our dissent, but we will not hesitate to enter the CM Secretariat premises if our voices are not being heard by tomorrow. One of our colleagues died recently because of mental pressure, which caused a brain haemorrhage. If any other incident like this happens, we will surely file an official complaint against the CM, the Chief Secretary and the Minister of Health. Every time, we are silenced by making fake promises, but if our voices are heard this time, we will take action.” 

Another protestor, Sameena Aslam Shah, states, “This is the fourth time we are protesting. The MNCH has around 1,200 employees, who provide health facilitation to the people. And our people have now committed themselves that this is our last protest, as we will not go back home until the government listens to us.”Bureaucratic apathy, promoted by successive Pakistan governments, has pushed Gilgit Baltistan into deeper poverty, inadequate access to basic services such as healthcare, education, and clean water besides a higher rate of unemployment among the youth. The region suffers from poor infrastructure and roads, persistent power shortages and bad internet connectivity, making Gilgit Baltistan one of the poorest regions in Pakistan.Illegally occupied Gilgit Baltistan needs to be free, one that aspires to be part of India!