No vote, no voice: G-B residents feel like wallflowers

On the whole, PML-N won 11 seats in the National Assembly, while PPP won 10 in the by-elections held during the five years.

While the rest of the nation prepares for the upcoming general elections, nearly 1.5 million people in Gilgit-Baltistan sit on a metaphorical fence, watching the electoral process unfold from a distance.

Despite being liberated from the Dogra Raj six decades ago, and the unconditional accession to Pakistan, the people of the region have been barred from casting their votes in the National Assembly and the Senate since 1947.

Together with Azad Kashmir, G-B forms a part of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, prompting Pakistan to put off calls for further integration on grounds that it may prejudice international obligations over the festering dispute.

Although the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, 2009, did bestow the region with a province-like status, it did not give G-B residents the right to vote outside their own territory.

“What a pity it is that we have strong affiliations with mainstream political parties, but still can’t vote for them,” said Sabir Hussain, a Gilgit resident.

These upcoming general elections have created more of a buzz in G-B than ever before. With the emergence of political players like Imran Khan, ‘attractions’ like computerised electoral lists, and the interest-grabbing goings-on within the independent judiciary and the election commission, G-B residents sit rooted to their seats, passionately awaiting outcomes.

The latest polls have injected new vigour into the campaigns, despite the ongoing wave of violence.

“It is really frustrating to be mere spectators,” said Hussain. “We wish leaders like Nawaz Sharif, Imran [Khan] and Asif Zardari hold [more] public rallies here to neutralise the sectarian divides amongst people.”

Nationalist leader Manzoor Parwana said that by not holding general elections in G-B, the government has further shown its discriminatory attitude, proving that the region cannot be treated like the other four provinces of Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2013.



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