Pakistan Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly Elections: November 15, 2020

Attabad Lake in Gilgit-Baltistan. Photo credit: Wikimedia/Jameel Ahmed (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Freedom House Rating

Partly Free
Government Type
Federal Parliamentary Republic
233 million
Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly Elections
November 15, 2020
General Elections
By August 2023 (snap possible)
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Legislative Assembly (partial)
July 20, 2019
General Elections (Parliamentary and provincial)
July 25, 2018

Pakistan’s administrative territory of Gilgit-Baltistan (the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir) will hold elections for its Legislative Assembly on November 15, 2020, following delays. The current assembly members’ terms ended in June, and political parties have opposed the delay. In addition, Pakistan is due to have indirect Senate elections in March.

Political Context

Pakistan has various administrative units that elect their own legislatures. The four provinces (Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Sindh) elect their legislatures at the same time as general elections. Gilgit-Baltistan and the territory of Azad Kashmir hold their elections at other times.

The upcoming elections in Gilgit-Baltistan are taking place in the context of the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.

Whither Gilgit-Baltistan? Disputed Territory and Democracy Deficit

Gilgit-Baltistan is an administrative territory whose status has been somewhat in flux because all of the ongoing dispute between Pakistan and India over Kashmir. In short, Gilgit-Baltistan’s status as an autonomous administrative territory – as opposed to a province fully incorporated into Pakistan’s political structure – has the potential to keep tensions with India on a low boil.

The downside to the arrangement is a democracy deficit. The territory lacked its own legislature until the 2009 Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order established the legislative assembly. India opposed the establishment of Gilgit-Baltistan’s legislative assembly and routinely objects vociferously to the holding of elections in Gilgit-Baltistan (Pakistan responded to recent criticism by pointing out that India holds elections in the India-controlled parts of Kashmir).

Moreover, while the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are now able to elect local representatives, the territory still isn’t represented in Pakistan’s federal parliament in Islamabad (a 2019 Pakistani Supreme Court ruling provided for representation in parliament subject to a resolution of the Kashmir dispute – which does not look likely to be resolved anytime soon).

On November 1, 2020, the prime minister granted Gilgit-Baltistan “provisional provincial status”

Pakistan’s National Political Context 

Following Pakistan’s turbulent 2018 general election, former cricket star Imran Khan – seen as the military’s preferred candidate – became prime minister when his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won the most seats. Conversely, the main opposition parties are former prime minister Nawaz Sharif‘s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), founded by Zulfikar Bhutto and still led by members of the Bhutto family.

In October 2020, 11 of Pakistan’s opposition parties, including the PML and the PPP, united to form the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM), ahead of indirect Senate elections due in March.

Political Situation in Gilgit-Baltistan 

PML-N won the most seats 2015 Gilgit-Baltistan elections. Conversely, PPP and PTI won one seat each. At the time, Nawaz Sharif was prime minister as PML-N had won Pakistan’s 2013 general elections. However, many prominent political figures in Gilgit-Baltistan have joined PTI ahead of these elections.

In that vein, political commentator Muhammed Amir Rana argues: “Politics in Azad Kashmir and [Gilgit-Baltistan] is mainly steered by the power corridors in Islamabad. This is a general belief that the ruling party in Islamabad will form the government in these regions. The different election timeframes of these regions from national polls in Pakistan make political engineering easy for gaining the required numbers in the local legislative assemblies.”

Geopolitical Context

The entire Kashmir region, which borders Afghanistan and China’s Xinjiang Province, is a geopolitical hotspot. Both India and Pakistan claim the entirety of Kashmir, and it has sparked several wars. The region remains heavily militarized.

The India-controlled part of Kashmir has been in crisis since August 2019. In a surprise move, the Modi government made a unilateral decision to strip the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir of its autonomy. For seventy years, the Indian-controlled part – established as the state of Jammu and Kashmir and India’s only Muslim-majority state – enjoyed a high degree of autonomy, but Modi announced that the state would be downgraded into two union territories, effectively centralizing control. The area remains on lockdown a year later. The situation has unsurprisingly exacerbated tensions between India and Pakistan.

Meanwhile, China has been ramping up its presence in the region. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a centerpiece of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, runs through Gilgit-Baltistan. Some analysts argue that making Gilgit-Baltistan a province would benefit China.

Curated News and Analysis

Sudha Ramachandran, The Diplomat (November 14, 2020): The Complex Calculus Behind Gilgit-Baltistan’s Provincial Upgrade

Sana Jamal, Gulf News (November 8, 2020): Political and religious parties step up efforts to win 2020 Gilgit-Baltistan elections

Sajjad Ahmad, Dawn (November 8, 2020): GB’s historic polls

Ian Bremmer, Time (October 26, 2020): What Happens Next in Pakistan Now That the Opposition Has Come Together

Shamil Shams, DW (October 25, 2020): Who is Maryam Nawaz, the face of Pakistan’s anti-government movement?

Manzar Shigri and Yasil Munim, Samaa (October 24, 2020): Explainer: Gilgit-Baltistan elections 2020 likely PTI-PPP showdown

Ravi Agrawal, Foreign Policy (October 22, 2020): Why Pakistanis Are Daring to Criticize Their Military

Syed Raza Hassan, Reuters (October 18, 2020): Pakistan opposition holds mass rally calling for PM Khan to go

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid, Foreign Policy (October 12, 2020): Pakistan Is Doing Its Own Political Reengineering in Kashmir

Al Jazeera (October 6, 2020): Pakistan ex-president charged for corruption, ex-pm with sedition

Umair Jamal, The Diplomat (September 29, 2020): Will Pakistan’s Military Hold a Free and Fair Election in Gilgit-Baltistan?

Press Trust of India (September 24, 2020): Pak Announces Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly Polls, India Objects

Abhijnan Rej, The Diplomat (September 23, 2020): Could Pakistan Move to Make Gilgit-Baltistan a New Province Soon?

Muhammed Amir Rana, DAWN Pakistan (July 26, 2020): Political Landscape of GB

Priyanjoli Ghosh, The Geopolitics (May 12, 2020): Gilgit-Baltistan Elections: A Reason Behind Continuous Friction in the Status of Kashmir

The Hindu (May 4, 2020): India protests Pakistan Supreme Court move to allow elections in Gilgit Baltistan

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid, The Diplomat (February 16, 2019): Gilgit-Baltistan: Pakistan’s Geopolitical Loophole

21votes does not necessarily agree with all of the opinions expressed in the linked articles; rather, our goal is to curate a wide range of voices. Furthermore, none of the individuals or organizations referenced have reviewed 21votes’ content, and their inclusion should not be taken to imply that they endorse us in any way. More on our approach here.

Updated November 14, 2020

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