Gilgit-Baltistan region goes to the polls amid tight security, coronavirus fears

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Women voting officers check serial numbers for voters at the gate of a polling station in the Gilgit district of Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan. (AN photo/Nisar Ali)
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Men stand in line outside a polling station in the Gilgit district of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. (AN photo/Nisar Ali)
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Policemen stand outside a polling station in the Gilgit district of Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan. (AN photo/Nisar Ali)
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Updated 16 November 2020

Gilgit-Baltistan region goes to the polls amid tight security, coronavirus fears

  • More than 13,000 law enforcement officials have been deployed at polling stations
  • Nearly 330 candidates are in the fray for 24 seats in the third legislative assembly

GILGIT: At a distance of 6 feet apart from each other to curb the spread of the coronavirus, nearly 800,000 voters in Gilgit-Baltistan went to the polls on Sunday to elect 24 candidates for the third legislative assembly in Pakistan’s north.
Campaigning has been in full swing in the region in the past few weeks, with nearly 330 candidates, including four women, in the fray.
Candidates from Pakistan’s major political parties have promised to build infrastructure projects and end decades of neglect in a region that has never officially been part of Pakistan but forms part of the portion of disputed Kashmir that Pakistan controls.
Both New Delhi and Islamabad have claimed all of Kashmir since gaining independence 73 years ago, and have fought two wars over the territory.
More than 13,000 law enforcement officials, including those brought in from around the country, have been deployed across polling stations in the region to secure the voting process, which will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Nearly 8,000 bags containing face covers, masks, gloves and sanitisers have been provided for staff at polling booths.
“No one will be allowed to enter the polling stations after 5 p.m.,” election commission official Muneer Johar told Arab News.
“Only voters already inside the wall ground will be allowed to cast votes.”
According to data from the Gilgit-Baltistan election commission, 745,361 people have registered to vote, of which 339,992 are women.
Nearly 1,234 polling stations have been set up in 24 constituencies, of which 415 have been declared “extremely sensitive.”
A former official in the chief minister’s office, Shahzada Maqpon, cast his vote in the Majini Muhallah area of Gilgit and said a large number of people were voting in the hope that a new local government would work for the development of the impoverished area.
“Voting is the fundamental right of people, and everyone is coming to polling stations to choose the best representatives for the region,” he said.
Women, too, came out to vote in a region where they have never voted in several constituencies, and few have run for office.
“In the last election, my husband didn’t allow me to cast my vote, saying it is not necessary for women,” Zahra Bibi told Arab News outside a polling station.
“Today, I am happy that I have voted for a female candidate.”
Senior journalist Qasim Shah, who has been covering elections in the area for the past two decades, said a “greater” turnout was expected than in any elections in the past.
Earlier this month, the federal government said that it had decided to elevate the impoverished region’s status to that of a province, which would give it greater political representation.
The announcement came a year after India changed the status of the portion of Kashmir it controls, taking away the region’s autonomy. India rejects Pakistan’s plan to change Gilgit-Baltistan’s status and has called the election there an exercise to cover up Pakistan’s occupation of the region. Islamabad denies this.


French youth of Arab origin mistrust secularism, national symbols, finds poll

Updated 11 min 59 sec ago

French youth of Arab origin mistrust secularism, national symbols, finds poll

  • Arab News en Francais/YouGov survey of French citizens of Arab origin found a wide generational gap in attitudes to secular values
  • Older respondents identified more closely with French national symbols, but tended to feel stigmatized for their faith

LONDON: Young people of Arab origin in France are less likely to hold secular values and are more distrustful of national symbols than their elders, an Arab News en Francais survey conducted in partnership with British polling agency YouGov has found.

Attitudes to secularism appear to differ substantially among those aged between 18 and 24, which constituted 15 percent of the 958 people surveyed, compared with other age groups.

More than half (54 percent) of all those polled said they believe religion plays a negative role in politics, while a smaller 46 percent of 18-24-year-olds said this was the case.

Likewise, on the subject of laws restricting the wearing of religious clothing, 38 percent of all respondents said they favor such rules, while 29 percent of 18-24-year-olds approve.

Asked whether they would be prepared to defend the French model of secularism in their country of origin, 65 percent of respondents said they would compared with just 56 percent of 18-24-year-olds.

Even among the 25-34 age group, adherence to the values of secularism is noticeably stronger than among the younger cohort, with 55 percent saying religion plays a negative role in politics.

The trend generally continues with age. Among those over 45, about 50 percent said they are in favor of laws limiting the wearing of religious symbols.

Observers have asked whether such negative perceptions of secularism among young French citizens of Arab origin can be equated with growing radicalism.

Some scholars of Islam have established a link between countries which have adopted a more “incisive” secularism and the number of citizens who traveled to Syria to join Daesh.

William McCants and Christopher Meserole of the Brookings Institution believe the political culture of France and Belgium, where religious symbols are restricted, combined with massive unemployment and urbanization, contributed to radicalization.


46% 18-24-year-olds say religion plays negative role in politics.

58% 18-24-year-olds would support home football side against France.

Other researchers say those who traveled to Syria came overwhelmingly from poor urban areas, where they faced discrimination in the job market, housing and police checks.

“Some young people feel they are viewed as sub-citizens, while media rhetoric gives credence to the idea that Muslims are ‘banding apart’,” said Elyamine Settoul, a lecturer at the National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts in Paris.

“This otherness between ‘them’ and ‘us’ represents a breeding ground for radicalization. Radical groups will not only sell them full citizenship but also compensate for all their deficiencies, whether they are identity based, affective or narcissistic.”

It is perhaps surprising, then, that just 47 percent of the 18-24 cohort surveyed by Arab News en Francais and YouGov believe their religion is perceived negatively in France — significantly lower than the overall average of 59 percent among all age groups.

Few topics better reflect a community’s sense of national pride than an international football tournament. Dual identities often lead to the question: Should I support the national side from my place of origin or cheer for my adopted nation?

Once again, a generational split emerges. The survey found 58 percent of men aged 18-24 would support their country of origin against the French side compared with an average of 47 percent among all respondents.

If the French World Cup victory in 1998 is considered the peak of the country’s “black-blanc-beur” multiculturalism, then the 2001 friendly between France and Algeria must be considered its nadir, when Algerian fans invaded the pitch.

The Arab News en Francais/YouGov study found that support for the French national team tended to increase with age. About 58 percent of 35-44-year-olds and 50 percent of over-55s said they would support the French national side over their country of origin.

“Young people under 25 are still building their identity and tend to get closer to their country of origin at this age. They fully claim their belonging to the country of origin, but this remains like folklore, as they often do not know much about it,” Settoul said.

“Over time, the identity asserts itself: We integrate professionally, get married, buy property and no longer take the same positions.”