On Sunday, students and youth from Gilgit-Baltistan organised protests demonstrations against a recent Supreme Court judgement. The judgement appeared to have recognised fundamental rights for the people of the region, which is a marked improvement over existing state of affairs. However, it falls far short of expectations of an increasingly vocal young population that has grown up in the era of social media and Internet connectivity. This population has seen how democratic processes enable people in other parts of the country, and in other countries, to make state institutions deliver. How can we expect this knowledgeable and well-connected young population to sit quietly as their region and their people continue to be ruled at the whims of a motley group of bureaucrats in the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs? These youngsters demand autonomy for the G-B region, like that afforded to other provinces in the country, within the federal framework. They want the country’s leadership to extend to them the social contract they are supposed to extend to Pakistanis in other parts of the country. They seek the rights and responsibilities laid out in the country’s constitution.Pakistan has for far too long tied the fate of G-B with that of the Kashmir dispute. It has felt reluctance to pursue meaningful reforms in the region on the pretext that once a resolution to the Kashmir dispute is reached, it will pave the way for substantive reforms in G-B as well. On the other hand, the civil society of G-B has become increasingly vocal in its demand for greater autonomy and strengthening of democratic structures in the region. While Pakistan remains committed to the resolution of the Kashmir dispute, there is no reason why we must continue to turn a deaf ear to the youth of the G-B. Reforms initiated in the region in the past decade have paved the way for operation of political parties, holding of regular elections, and the establishment of a sub-national governance apparatus. However, this apparatus remains powerless when crucial decisions and law-making powers continue to lie with Islamabad alone. It is imperative that the principle of federalism, enshrined in our constitution, is extended to the G-B region, meaning that more powers must be devolved to the governing apparatus set up in Gilgit. And this must be done in consultation with the political and civil society actors from the region. We have seen how federalism has strengthened Islamabad by improving its relationship with provinces. A similar approach should be taken in the G-B region. This will only further strengthen the federation by boosting the confidence of the G-B youth in Islamabad’s ability to deliver.Published in Daily Times, January 21st 2019.