Gilgit-Baltistan: Emerging political landscape and the forthcoming elections
Is another King’s party in the making?
People of GB have not much to look forward to
An opinion in the Dawn titled “Political landscape of GB” by Muhammad Amir Rana highlights the grim situation in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) the pandemic which has deeply affected the tourism in the region and the upcoming regional assembly election, which was much anticipated has been postponed. (Muhammad Amir Rana, “Political landscape of GB,” Dawn, 26 July 2020)
Perceptions on postponing elections
The elections were scheduled to take place in July, however, the election commission officials announced that preparations for managing the polling in August were still incomplete and that at least two more months were required to make the proper arrangements. The author notes that political parties in GB are unhappy with the decision of postponing the election by the GB Election Commission, viewing this decision with suspicion. Further, he notes that there is a popular opinion that another king’s party is in the making adding that the election schedule would not be announced until the ongoing process of political engineering is completed. On the other hand, some believe that the delay of the electoral process is linked to a major constitutional shift for the region.
Political affairs in GB
Politics in GB is said to be directed by the power corridors in Islamabad. The general assumption is that the ruling party in Islamabad will form the government in these regions. Time and again national parties have gained the required numbers in the local legislative assemblies as a result of the different election timeframes of these regions from national polls in Pakistan, thus enabling political engineering to thrive. Further, the author notes how the current ruling party in Islamabad, however, was not well prepared for the GB election and many anticipated that that may break the illusion that only Islamabad’s favourites have the ‘right’ to form the government in GB. It is against this that the popular opinion of the formation of a king’s party has been accelerated during the last few weeks. Further, this political manipulation has started to send a negative message to the people of GB, an already politically sensitive region.
Demands of the people in GB
The author states that the people of GB have always demanded that they should be completely integrated with Pakistan. However, Islamabad has not accepted this proposal as they view GB as part of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir, thus making such arrangements would undermine the Kashmir dispute and Pakistan’s international obligations. To offset this decision, Islamabad has taken several political initiatives over the years. However, the sense of alienation among the educated youth of the area has only increased and has triggered sub-nationalist sentiments in the region.
Rumours or gimmicks?
With the formation of the king’s party, rumours that the government may be considering the possibility of introducing some provisional constitutional arrangement for the region have spread through local media outlets; however, the same is not being heard in Islamabad.
Against the CPEC milieu, some believe that Pakistan can take such an initiative to consolidate its constitutional position in the region. Thus, addressing the apprehensions of Chinese investors as their investment would get proper legal cover under the legal jurisdictions of Pakistan.
Rumours that the government is preparing an amendment in Kashmir’s provisional constitution of 1974 under which “Azad Kashmir” (PoK) will get more administrative and political powers are also doing the rounds in the region.
The author concluded by stating “if these are not merely rumours or gimmicks for electoral purposes, nothing would be better for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.”
PPP calls for the resignation of NAB chairman
Pakistan People’s Party demand for the resignation of National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal. PPP Information Secretary and MNA Dr Nafisa Shah said the report submitted by NAB was, ‘a “confession” about “incompetence and failure” of the bureau’. The report was submitted in the Supreme Court which is seized with a suo motu case regarding the delay in trials and the accountability of courts. Dr Shah called for an immediate release of ‘all those politicians and other people who were facing false and baseless charges and political victimization’ due to NAB decision. (“PPP demands resignation of NAB chairman”, Dawn, 27 July 2020)
The domestic imbalance between the centre and the provinces
The centre and the provinces once again turn their back to each other. Both sides have competing interests, regarding power and jurisdiction over fiscal and natural resources of Pakistan. The PTI government takes a slow start on its engagements with the federating units. As Prime Minister, Imran Khan government has not held a meeting of the Council of Common Interests (CCI) since 23 December 2019. As of now the CCI hopefully meets on 6 August after a gap of almost 225 days. (“The duel between centre and provinces”, Dawn, 27 July 2020)
The other side of the FATF story
An opinion in the Nation by Senator Rehman Malik states that successive governments in Pakistan have failed to get out of the FATF blacklist as the right strategy is not adopted with effective international countermeasures. Adding that these actions have been deliberate attempts to prove that Pakistan is a terrorism-sponsoring state by attempting to promote money laundering and then linking it to terrorism. The author states that as a nation, it must be made known that these measures are being done with ulterior motives to destabilize Pakistan by further crippling the economy. Further, the senator adds that Pakistan must understand that it is not FATF which needs to be satisfied but the USA that needs to be handled diplomatically by sorting issues with it, further adding that the Government of Pakistan should come up with sensible, pragmatic, and evidence-based measures before the FATF with the help of China who has already warned member countries not to politicize FATF and not to use the forum against Pakistan. (Senator Rehman Malik, “FATF restrictions and economic terrorism,” The Nation, 27 July 2020)
A new development package under a new government for Balochistan
According to the editorial, every ‘Balochistan development package’ has only increased the sense of alienation among the Baloch comparing it with the government package of 2009 Aghaz-i-Haqooq-i-Balochistan package and 2017 economic package. As the editor highlights, ‘After decades of broken promises, political engineering and enforced disappearances, the trust deficit between the centre and the Baloch is vast, yet it is not, one hopes, unbridgeable’. As the province has indeed for long been viewed through a narrow-securitized lens On 24 July, Prime Minister Imran Khan set up a ‘three-member committee to prioritize areas where development should be undertaken’, in Balochistan. The special focus on communications, agriculture, energy, and other important sectors. (“Another package”, Dawn, 27 July 2020)
The economy under the Imran Khan government
According to the editor, the weakness of the PTI was that it has proclaimed unrealistic before coming to power, assuring that it had a set program of reforms and a capable team ready to bring the economy in the right path. The economic management in these two years has been influenced by ‘imported’ ideas as the two failed ventures, the chicken breeding program for poverty alleviation and ‘Sarmaya-e-Pakistan’. As the government remain unmanaged about the continuous blot on the country’s economic performance. (“The economy under the PTI”, The News International, 27 July 2020)
Rejuvenation of CPEC
The two hydel power projects in PoK and a special economic zone (SEZ) in Faisalabad were signs of the rejuvenation of the multi-billion-dollar program between Pakistan and China. As China intended to invest $62bn in Pakistan, from April 2015 for over 15 years under CPEC. It is assumed that ‘Chinese preference for a particular political party in Pakistan baseless’. The official positioning of Chinese nationals in Pakistan is not the same as it was in 2016–18. On the contrary, Mushahid Hussain Syed, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, said, “Regarding suspicions over China’s enthusiasm for CPEC, the assumption is factually incorrect. There is renewed vigour in CPEC with two new hydel projects announced in PoK. As for the Gwadar Port, it is a centrepiece of CPEC. Its development is transformative for Balochistan. The reservations of Baloch insurgents stem from suspicions, failed and flawed policies of the past and propaganda of hostile external forces”. (“CPEC 2.0: full speed ahead”, Dawn, 27 July 2020)
Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson against Australian report
On 26 July, Foreign Office spokesperson Aisha Farooqui disapprove the report by Australian news outlet ‘Klaxon’, saying “it is a politically motivated and fake story composed of distortion of facts and fabrications that quote anonymous sources”. She also said, there is no secrecy about the Bio-Safety Level-3 (BSL-3) Laboratory of Pakistan as the nation had been sharing information about the facility with the States Parties to the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention (BTWC) in its submission of confidence-building measures. The report claims, ‘“In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak on Chinese soil, China’s now infamous Wuhan Institute of Virology has signed the covert deal with Pakistan military’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation (Desto) to collaborate research in emerging infectious diseases and advance studies on the biological control of transmitted diseases”. The program is entirely funded by China and titled “Collaboration for Emerging Infectious Diseases and Studies on Biological Control of Vector Transmitting Diseases”. (“FO refutes report about Chinese lab’s secret wok in Pakistan”, Dawn, 27 July 2020)
Telephonic contact between Pakistan and Bangladesh only a ‘baby step’: Opinion
An opinion in the Express Tribune by Kamran Yousaf titled “Pakistan, Bangladesh rapprochement?” looks into the recent telephonic conversation between the Prime Ministers of Pakistan and Bangladesh stating that this development is a rare high-level contact between the two countries, raising hopes of a thaw in their otherwise frosty relationship. Although tensions have remained between the two countries, the author notes that many observe that the changing dynamics offered a good opportunity for Pakistan and Bangladesh to revisit their troubled ties, however, this telephonic contact between the two PMs is only a ‘baby step’ as there are other complexities involved. The author concluded by stating that Pakistan must continue to seek rapprochement with its former eastern wing. (Kamran Yousaf, “Pakistan, Bangladesh rapprochement?” The Express Tribune, 27 July 2020)
10th Indian quadcopter shot
On 26 July, according to the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Pakistan Army shot down an Indian spying quadcopter in the Pandu sector. The director-general of the military’s media affairs tweet: “#PakistanArmy troops shot down an Indian spying #quadcopter in Pandu Sector along LOC”. IPSR director general Maj Gen Babar Iftikhar said, “Many times, their [India’s] quadcopters have intruded on our side and in the past, we have downed some of them, and it has been covered in the media.” (“Army down Indian spy quadcopter”, Dawn, 27 July 2020)
Uygurs in China: "Silence won't pay," says an analysis
According to the editor, the genocide against Uyghurs for China and its allies was fake news, which Huma Yusuf explains as an example of Western hypocrisy. She emphasized the displacement and ill behaviour shows China’s growing political and security assertiveness.
She also said, ‘Pakistan will, of course, remain silent as this issue intensifies. This is not surprising; as Prime Minister Imran Khan has himself said, China has aided Pakistan when it has been at “rock bottom”, so Islamabad will not publicly shame Beijing on its Uighur track record’. Pakistan is on this journey without realizing any sense of debate against it. The same will be the case of many Muslim majority countries seeking investment under BRI from China.
Where the US has imposed its targeted sanctions against party officials, rights abuses. The UK’s foreign secretary has indicted China of “egregious” human rights abuses, and France demanded ‘international observers’ permission to access Xinjiang. As the Uyghur card is being used as tensions over trade deals, the handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and cybersecurity concerns linked to Huawei’s capture of the global telecoms market and Chinese espionage. (“Silence won’t pay”, Dawn, 27 July 2020)