Prime Minister Imran Khan announced on Sunday that “Gilgit-Baltistan is going to become Pakistan’s fifth province”. PM Khan was speaking at an Independence Day parade in Gilgit-Baltistan on November 1. It also marks GB’s Independence Day and the day it ceded to Pakistan. The premier said the move was being taken in line with the United Nationals Security Council’s resolutions.
Opposition parties termed the premier’s visit to GB just days before the elections as an attempt to influence the electoral results. GB is all set to hold elections on November 15.
PPP Senator Taj Haider, the in-charge of the party’s Central Election Cell, through a letter to the GB chief election commissioner, requested him to take notice of the visit ahead of the elections.
The letter said that the election cell had received complaints from its contesting candidates that Imran accompanied by several cabinet members was scheduled to participate in a ceremony to be attended by the GB governor and the caretaker chief minister, which was in violation of the election code of conduct.
However, Imran’s visit is not unprecedented. Deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had visited the region in February 2015 ahead of the last election and announced development projects for the region. He had also announced the formation of a high-powered committee to grant constitutional rights to the people of GB.
Gilgit-Baltistan: what is its strategic importance?
Gilgit-Baltistan is a historically distinct political entity near the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir. It is located at the junction of China, Central and South Asia, and Afghanistan.
Situated in the mountains of northern Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan covers 72,971 square kilometers. Its estimated population of 1.3 million.
Gilgit-Baltistan was previously known as the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA). It is an autonomous region in northern Pakistan with separate government and electoral systems. In 1970, it became a single administrative unit called the Northern Areas under administrative control of the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas, formed from the amalgamation of the Gilgit Agency, the Baltistan District of the Ladakh Wazarat, and the states of Hunza and Nagar.
The region is divided into two administrative divisions: Gilgit and Baltistan/Skardu. Its government is made up of a GB Council, Legislative Assembly, ministers, a chief minister and a governor. Its assembly has the power to make laws on 61 subjects, including land revenue and administrative courts and it votes on the budget.
CPEC passes through the Karakoram Highway and covers almost 600 kilometers distance in GB, giving the area a high profile geopolitically. Since 1947, GB has not been granted provincial status due to its colonial association with the disputed region of Kashmir.
Number of seats and voters
GB has 24 constituencies and its assembly has 33 seats. Candidates from political parties will stand for 24 seats. Of the remaining seats, six are reserved for women and three for technocrats. The area has a population of about 1.3 million and a total of 745,361 voters have registered, of which roughly half or 33.
Who is contesting?
A total of 330 people are standing in these elections. The PML-Q is fielding candidates in 14 constituencies. And the PTI has issued party tickets to 22 people and expressed its support for Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen’s candidates in two constituencies.
The PPP, which suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the PML-N in 2015, announced candidates for all 24 constituencies. Many of the PPP candidates are seasoned politicians and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is running the campaign.9,992 are women.
Who will win the election?
The real battle is, argue analysts, between PPP and PTI. Several key local leaders have recently joined PTI. Fida Muhammad Nashad, who became Speaker after the 2015 elections, has been awarded a PTI ticket, he added. Other former PML-N minister and MPAs who have joined PTI include former provincial minister Dr Muhammad Iqbal, Haider Khan, and Ibrahim Sanai.
SAMAA Digital reported that GB Chief Election Commissioner Raja Shehbaz Khan has that transparent elections will be held for the transfer of power. Police and security personnel will be deputed at polling stations while the Pakistan Army will be positioned outside sensitive polling stations.