From Sajjad Hussain Islamabad, Jun 8: Pakistan today went ahead with the holding of legislative assembly elections in Gilgit-Baltistan despite India's objections to the polls.
It is the second time Pakistan is holding polls to elect a regional legislature after devolution of powers in 2009 which changed the region's name from Northern Areas to Gilgit-Baltistan and provided it with a local assembly.
Reacting strongly to the elections in Gilgit-Baltistan, India last week had said it is an attempt by Pakistan to "camouflage its forcible and illegal occupation" of the regions which are integral part of the country.
Official Spokesperson in the External Affairs Ministry Vikas Swarup in New Delhi had expressed concern at the "continued efforts" by Pakistan to deny the people of the region their political rights and to absorb these territories. But Pakistan had rejected India's stand and said India should avoid "interference" in its internal affairs.
The polling for the 24 seats of the legislative assembly started at 8AM (local time) this morning. According to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), there are about 618,364 registered voters including 288,889 women, who are expected to exercise their franchise.
Six members of the assembly will be elected from Skardu district, four from Diamer, three each from Gilgit, Hunza Nagar, Ghizer and Ganche and two from Astor. In all, 1,143 polling stations have been set up, including 282 declared as "highly sensitive" and 269 as "sensitive" due to the security situation.
A total of 272 candidates are contesting the elections with all major parties, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's PML-N, Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in the poll fray. Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf's All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) is also in the run and has fielded 13 candidates.
Other known parties contesting the polls are Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT), Majils Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM), Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam- Fazl (JUI-F), Tehreek-e-Islami and Jamaat-i- Islami (JI).
Pakistan on Saturday had deployed army in the region to maintain "peace and security" ahead of the polls. Stringent security arrangements were put in place at all polling stations and at key entry and exit point of the region.
Gilgit-Baltistan is strategically located and provides the only land link with China. The USD 46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is also proposed to pass through it, which India has objected to.