20 September 2013

Constitutional reforms in Gilgit-Baltistan

Courtesy: ViewPoint

Gilgit-Baltistan is the name given to the northern areas of Pakistan, which were previously called Federally Administered northern Areas. This region used to be a part of Kashmir during British raj, under control of Maharaj Hari Singh. In 1935 Maharaja leased this region to British for 60 years. At the time of partition in 1947 people of this region along with Gilgit Scouts and 6-J & K Infantry Battalion revolted against the Maharaja. By the beginning of 1949 entire region of Gilgit Baltistan became a part of Pakistan. According to the UN resolutions, this area is a part of disputed Kashmir region. From 1940 till 1970, this region was a part of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. In 1970 this region was brought under direct federal control separated from Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Military ruler, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, instituted Northern Area Council which was an advisory council consisting from the elected representatives of this region. In 2009, the PPP government introduced Empowerment and Self-governance Ordinance 2009 for Gilgit-Baltistan. This move gave a locally elected government to people of Gilgit Baltistan but it has limited authority and this Ordinance doesn’t have constitutional cover.

The primary problem which people of Gilgit-Baltistan are concerned about is that they don’t have representation in Federal legislature of Pakistan i.e. National Assembly and Senate. FATA is also a federally administered area, like Gilgit-Baltistan was before 2009. However, FATA has representation in both Houses of Pakistani Parliament. There is a universal concept that No taxation without representation and people of Gilgit-Baltistan pay Tax to Pakistani state and abide by all it laws but they don’t have any representation. This is violation of universally accepted democratic norms and the concerns of people of Gilgit-Baltistan in this regard are indeed justified.

Current setup in Gilgit-Baltistan is better than the previous one but it’s not enough. Political platforms such as the Gilgit-Baltistan United Movement reject this movement and call for an internally autonomous government for this region like Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Although, a local government is installed in Gilgit-Baltistan, headed by Chief Minister Syed Mehdi Shah but its powerless and it only has limited jurisdiction over few departments. The Federal Ministry of Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan calls the shots in the region and has absolute authority over Gilgit-Baltistan. This has created a sense of deprivation among the people of the region that they can’t make the decisions about their area through their elected representatives. Gilgit-Baltistan is administered by the bureaucrats and police officers from outside the region. Therefore, they are not sensitive to the needs and wants of the local people.

There can be two proposals that can solve this problem faced by the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Either make this region a federally administered part of Pakistan like FATA. Through this proposal, Gilgit-Baltistan can get representation in both National Assembly and Senate in proportion to its population. That can solve the problem of lack/absence of representation. The representatives of Gilgit-Baltistan can then use the platform of Pakistan’s parliament to press for more autonomy for the region so on and so forth.

Or Gilgit-Baltistan should be incorporated into Pakistan as its fifth province. Through this they can have a constitutionally backed provincial assembly/provincial government. Thanks to the 18th Amendment they will get the control over most of the governance subjects. Currently, Gilgit-Baltistan and FATA combined have 4% quota in the federal government jobs. After creation of Gilgit-Baltistan province, it will be allotted its own quota and its people can serve in the Central Superior Services of Pakistan. The ideal solution would be a provincial status got Gilgit-Baltistan.

September last year, Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly approved a resolution demanding provincial status. In the spirit of democracy this resolution should be respected.

The people of Gilgit-Baltistan should be commended that even after six decades of deprivation they have not retorted to violent means of manifesting dissent. However their patience should not be tested anymore in current scenario where Pakistan’s facing trouble from all corners. Gilgit-Baltistan is strategically very important region for Pakistan. The recently unveiled project of Economic corridor from Gwadar to Kasghar goes through this region. In order to keep this region stable, which is pre-requisite for establishment of economic corridor, people of Gilgit-Baltistan should be given their due rights.


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