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Gilgit-Baltistan’s federal dependency

Pakistan has seen frequent political shifts, with no prospects of a civilian government ever finishing a term without any turbulence.

The impact of such impetuous shifts in politics has been disastrous for the country. Such impacts are not limited to the constitutionally recognized federating units; their tremors are felt both in Gilgit-Baltistan and the Kashmir region. Both of these regions are irrelevant in national electoral politics. However, given their fiscal dependency, both spiral deep into administrative and financial crises with a change in government in the centre. The scope of this article is Gilgit-Baltistan only.

The federal dependency of Gilgit-Baltistan is as old as its unfinished integration in Pakistan after getting independence from the Dogras. The region is still struggling to gain constitutional space in the larger federation of Pakistan and the struggle for this has been often delayed and eventually denied for reasons best known to the ‘ruling elites’ of Pakistan.

The region’s relationship with the federal government has been that of dependency both in financial and administrative matters. The financial share stemming out of such dependency has been fluctuating from time to time with the share being strongly linked with the goodwill of the incumbent government in the centre. For the region to benefit from the federal exchequer, it has to have a government of the federal ruling party or maintain a ‘subservient’ relationship with the government at the centre. The typical arm twisting by the federal government has been through major cuts in finances for the development projects and subsidies in the region.

The dependency model directly impacts the legitimacy of the local executive. A typical approach to rendering the government toothless is through posting bureaucrats to the higher offices with a clear message of ‘non-cooperation’, thus thwarting the initiatives of the provincial government in the region. There is also an element of a well-crafted monopoly over key appointments where the officers maintain federal loyalty in their daily official conduct. If and when required, through such channels, the federal government can turn the heat on towards the provincial government of Gilgit-Baltistan.

The dependency dynamic of the region has terrible consequences. As the region has no representation in the national legislative entities, the severity of such deprivations has never been felt and empathized with in the centre. Also, the region until last month had no revenue collecting body and financial sources of its own; it is thus hard for the region to make itself immune from the effects of changes in the federal government.

The way forward to this conundrum is not as straightforward as one would argue. Several opine that the elections of the region should be held with the general elections of Pakistan. This, they argue, will harmonize the region’s relationship with the federal government. However, between federating units it’s not harmony that the state should prioritize rather it should be a symbiotic relationship rooted in democracy. Seeking harmonization at the cost of local interests is an undemocratic approach. In the case of Gilgit-Baltistan, unless granted a constitutionally protected political and fiscal autonomy, a mere change in election schedule will have no positive impact on the federal-GB relationship.

There is a dire need to remodel the relationship with the region that it holds control over. With the establishment of the Gilgit-Baltistan Revenue Authority, the provincial government also aspires to generate local revenue. The aim is to gradually transition towards self-sufficiency by taxing the lucrative sectors that are doing business in the region yet paying zero tax to the government. Building on this, what can guarantee a semblance of stability in the relationship between the centre and Gilgit-Baltistan is fixed annual fiscal support by the federal government on the NFC model.

The centre can exclude the factors not applicable to the region, but should provide the region a lump sum annual grant based on the remaining NFC indicators. Once it is fixed it will help the provisional province to map out its development plan for the region without any interference from the federal government.

Sticking to the status quo presents a serious risk of a federal and provisional province standoff. Gilgit-Baltistan is not the kind of region where the state can afford to give a deaf ear to the brewing resentments . The sooner sanity prevails, the better it is.

Email: yasir.bui@gmail.com

Yasir Abbas, "Gilgit-Baltistan’s federal dependency," The News. 2022-11-12.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political shifts , Electoral politics , Bureaucrats , Elections , Gilgit-Baltistan , Kashmir