Actions taken by the federal government in Gilgit-Baltistan after the end of Mehdi Shah’s tenure in December have led opposition parties to conclude that the administration was out to rig the forthcoming elections. With the GB Assembly comprising only 33 members, the number of caretaker ministers was suddenly raised from three to 12. This led the PPP to complain that the measure was aimed at influencing the elections through the large team of new ministers who were mostly PML-N supporters. The subsequent appointment of a federal minister and a PML-N loyalist as Governor of the region further strengthened the perception. The PPP moved a resolution in the Senate condemning the appointment which it called a “sudden, mysterious and inexplicable rollback of the GB Empowerment Order”. The PTI also expressed apprehension about foul play in the polls. The party described the appointment of governor, the chief election commissioner and expansion in the caretaker cabinet as “pre-poll rigging”.
While it was being questioned if the present caretaker setup was competent to provide a free environment for the elections, the PM has entered the scene to put his weight behind his party. He addressed a public gathering in Gilgit city where he particularly targeted Imran Khan whose party is considered by the PML-N its principle rival in the forthcoming polls. To lure the voters, he promised mega projects which he maintained ‘would change the destiny of the people in the region’. These included power generation projects, new roads, a tunnel, a new campus of the Karakoram International University, loan schemes for skilled youth and laptops for university students. He also promised the creation of four new districts in the region. These promises could have been made months earlier or announced after the polls. The time just before the elections was obviously chosen for influencing the elections.
The economic and strategic importance of Gilgit-Baltistan has increased manifold in the wake of the Pak-China Economic Corridor. Can Islamabad afford to take measures that create unrest in the region?