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Gilgit-Baltistan's Economic Woes

In early 2020, the government made a significant decision to slash the job quota for Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) to a meager one percent. With this move, its outcome became starkly evident in the aftermath, particularly having been highlighted by the Federal Public Service Commission's (FPSC) advertisement Case No. F.4-51/2020-R (3/2020), concerning the filling of 157 Appraisers positions in the Revenue Division. Out of these, only one post was allocated for Gilgit-Baltistan, while five were designated for FATA and four for AJK. This allocation sparked profound disappointment and resentment among the populace of GB.This mode of new dispensation has become rife insofar as allocation of federal jobs in all federal ministries and other institutions since then. The decision, seemingly a fallout from GB's separation from the GB/FATA combination, contradicts expectations for a comprehensive approach to tackle longstanding issues. It is perceived as unjust and inequitable, directly undermining the essence of the quota system and worsening the economic challenges faced by GB's educated yet unemployed youth. In this connection, a highly commendable step has been taken recently by the Chief Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan in his impassioned appeal to the Prime Minister of Pakistan regarding the crucial matter of 'Equity and Inclusion for Gilgit-Baltistan's Youth in Islamabad's Institutions.' In his letter as emanating from social media the other day as excerpted hereunder, he states: "No.CM-Do-1(23)/2024, 26th April, 2024 SUBJECT: JOB QUOTA FOR THE RESIDENTS OF GILGIT-BALTISTAN IN ISLAMABAD CAPITAL TERRITORY (ICT) Respected Sir, (Assalamo Alaikum) I hope this letter finds you in the best of health and high spirits. I am writing to express sincere gratitude for your ongoing dedication to the welfare of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Your efforts to integrate the region into the broader development framework of Pakistan have been commendable, and the residents of Gilgit-Baltistan are deeply grateful. Taking this opportunity, I would like to draw your urgent attention to a matter of paramount importance for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, particularly the youth who fervently seek employment opportunities. As Islamabad continues to burgeon, being the administrative and social nucleus of Pakistan, it is imperative that job opportunities in its government institutions are rigorously observed. However, it has come to our profound dismay that the quota allocated by the Establishment Division for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan is blatantly disregarded when advertising posts in various institutions of the ICT. This egregious oversight results in a distressing lack of representation, erecting significant barriers to the inclusion and integration of Gilgit-Baltistan’s youth into the mainstream national institutions. The residents of Gilgit-Baltistan have consistently demonstrated their unwavering commitment and loyalty to Pakistan, and it is only equitable that they are afforded equal opportunity in accordance with their designated share. Your decisive action on this matter would not only nurture a profound sense of inclusion and equality but also demonstrate your visionary leadership and compassionate governance. I implore you to give this matter the earnest consideration it deserves and to take decisive action so that the youth of Gilgit-Baltistan are granted a fair chance to compete for upcoming positions in the ICT Social Security Institutions, ICT Labour Department, and various other roles offered in ICT institutions. Thank you for your invaluable time and attention. I eagerly anticipate your favorable response. With profound regards." It is believed fervently and hoped sanguinely that this will be evocative of a favorable action in the context of equitable federal jobs' quota for GB in consideration of and keeping with the economic woes of this region. Let it be put it unequivocally that despite GB's significant sacrifices and economic hurdles, its exclusion from national decision-making bodies perpetuates the neglect of its needs. The unresolved constitutional status, intertwined with the Kashmir dispute, further complicates the situation. Despite promises to tap into GB's natural resources, effective mechanisms to harness its human potential remain conspicuously absent. This not only hampers the region's development but also deepens the sense of alienation and disenfranchisement among its people. Demographically, Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) sustains a population of approximately 2.8 million, primarily reliant on mountain agriculture in terrain renowned for its inhospitality. Devoid of any industrial base and private sector prospects, the already constrained job quota further compounds the region's economic challenges, deepening the disillusionment felt by GB's young populace. Within the economic landscape of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), the Sino-Pak border trade emerges as not just a vital economic lifeline but a historical echo of the region's past commercial glory. Since the opening of the Khunjerab Pass in 1986, trade between China and Pakistan has flourished, reminiscent of the ancient Silk Route era when vibrant trade and commerce links thrived between these regions. This trade corridor presents crucial economic opportunities for local communities, mirroring their historical connections with the bordering Xinjiang Region. In response to these opportunities, unemployed youth from GB often receive border passes, symbolizing a revival of the historic people-to-people exchanges that once facilitated unhindered trade and commerce links across these borders. However, a significant hurdle obstructs the path to economic empowerment: the absence of clear regulations governing baggage allowances for these border pass holders. This regulatory vacuum that persists for the last 38 years, must be addressed by the federal government to rationalize and amplify the issuance of border passes by the GB government, rendering them both logical and meaningful. This in seeing that these youths possess the freedom to travel, they encounter formidable barriers in importing merchandise due to the complexities of taxation. The absence of 'special baggage rules' tailored for border pass holders further exacerbates their plight, hindering their ability to establish sustainable livelihoods. Consequently, there is an urgent need for the federal government to intervene and enact streamlined regulations that facilitate the smooth importation of goods by border pass holders, thereby empowering them to capitalize on the economic opportunities offered by the Sino-Pak border trade. Only through such proactive measures alone, the potential of GB's youth can be fully realized, fostering not just individual prosperity but also the overall economic development of the region. Addressing this challenge demands a concerted effort to streamline border trade regulations, ensuring that GB's youth can fully harness this economic avenue. By establishing transparent guidelines and allowances for merchandise transportation across the border, authorities can empower local youth to engage in trade activities that not only benefit their economic well-being but also contribute to the overall prosperity of Gilgit-Baltistan. In essence, the reduction of GB's job quota within such a challenging economic landscape is perceived as arbitrary and oppressive, failing to alleviate the region's economic burdens. It underscores the pressing need for a just and comprehensive approach to address GB's longstanding grievances and integrate it effectively into Pakistan's broader development framework. The reduction of the job quota in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) serves as a poignant reflection of a deeper-rooted historical and systemic neglect, compounded by the region's ambiguous constitutional status. Despite being categorized as a "Special Territory," GB lacks the full provincial status accorded to other regions, consequently depriving it of proportional representation in pivotal decision-making bodies. This diminution of the job quota not only exacerbates GB's existing economic challenges but also perpetuates its marginalized status within the national framework. Historically, GB has grappled with exclusion from federal job opportunities, with sporadic inclusions only emerging from the 1960s onwards. However, these limited inclusions have proven insufficient in ameliorating the region's economic disparities. The absence of adequate representation in national policy-making spheres intensifies GB's sense of deprivation, starkly contrasting with the treatment afforded to other regions. Economically, GB faces distinctive hurdles owing to its rugged mountainous terrain and constrained agricultural potential. This is primarily because the region though comprising a vast area of 28000 sq miles, is mostly mountainous with one one percent of the total area remaining under agriculture while another one percent awaits to be made irrigable by strenuous efforts with use of modern mountain-farming technologies. Mounting demographic pressures and land fragmentation further impede agricultural productivity, leaving livestock breeding as a precarious livelihood option for many. Moreover, the scarcity of professional colleges and universities curtails educational and economic avenues for the region's youth, exacerbating the cycle of economic stagnation. Given the formidable challenges confronting Gilgit-Baltistan's economy, a multifaceted strategy is imperative to alleviate its entrenched economic disparities. This strategy necessitates a comprehensive reassessment of the job quota system, accompanied by the establishment of a specialized quota tailored specifically for GB's youth within autonomous and semi-autonomous organizations. Such proactive measures are indispensable for harnessing the region's remarkably diligent, industrious, and principled workforce, thereby mitigating the profound economic adversities it confronts and fostering sustainable development in GB. Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) boasts an unprecedented workforce distinguished by its unwavering commitment, resilience, and integrity, eagerly awaiting opportunities for overseas employment. It is imperative for relevant federal ministries to develop and execute tailored programs aimed at integrating these industrious individuals into the wider economic landscape. Recently, during an encounter in Rawalpindi, I had the privilege of conversing with a native of GB, Wali Jan (License No. MPD/2930/Rwp), deeply involved in facilitating overseas employment for his fellow GB residents. In our brief interaction, he underscored his personal commitment to expanding overseas job prospects for GB's youth. Remarkably, he shared his success in facilitating the employment of over eight hundred GB youths abroad within a mere three-year period. Clearly, the provincial government of Gilgit-Baltistan must actively advocate for a substantial increase in the job quota allocated to the region, aligning with its acute economic challenges. Such advocacy is vital to ensure that GB's youth receive equitable opportunities in both national and international job markets, thus fostering the socio-economic development of the region. The economic difficulties confronting Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) are deeply entrenched in its historical reliance on subsistence farming and livestock breeding, practices that have become insufficient due to population growth and environmental factors. While these traditional activities sustained households in the past, the scarcity of arable land and vegetation renders them unproductive today. Moreover, livestock breeding, integral to mountain agriculture, has declined due to GB's rugged terrain and limited pastureland. The region's unique geography, with only one percent of its land suitable for agriculture, exacerbates its economic challenges. Unlike other areas benefiting from monsoon rains, GB remains devoid of vegetation, further hampering agricultural productivity. Gilgit-Baltistan's (GB) economic challenges are further compounded by its ambiguous constitutional status and a history of neglect in quota allocation for federal jobs. Despite being designated as a "Special Territory," GB lacks adequate representation in national decision-making bodies, severely hampering its prospects for development. The recent reduction in the federal job quota only serves to deepen the socio-economic disparities within the region, underscoring the urgent need for a comprehensive approach to redress its longstanding grievances. Notably, the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) reportedly passed unanimously a resolution sometime back, calling for an increase in the federal job quota to four percent. This decision reflects a recognition of the region's economic hardships and enjoys consensus across all political parties. It is incumbent upon the regional chapters of national mainstream parties to vigorously advocate for this cause and actively engage with their central leadership to ensure a timely resolution. Effectively addressing these pressing issues demands a concerted effort to prioritize GB's economic development and mitigate its socio-economic disparities. Only through collaborative action and steadfast advocacy can make meaningful progress achievable in advancing the well-being and prosperity of Gilgit-Baltistan and its people.


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