THE Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order 2009 resembles a very intricate sandcastle: elaborate in its design but devoid of structural and constitutional integrity.
Even the slightest disturbance, as tiny as the executive’s mood, has the potential to cripple the entire edifice. The package appears to be gimmickry in the guise of democracy. It reflects the scant interest those at the helm of affairs have in the region.
Most political theorists and political scientists would argue that democracy is the essence of the people’s demands. Intriguing is the fact that the GB governance package neither reflects the aspirations of the region’s population, nor were they consulted when the package was being formulated.
A political status within Pakistan’s constitutional structure that enables them to vote for their representatives has been the demand of the people of GB for the last 65 years. The package in question has much dirty laundry, but let’s focus our attention on the dirtiest.
Conspicuous are the structural flaws. Take one instance. Even though referred to as a quasi-province, GB has, in fact, a council akin to a senate, and an appellate court akin to a supreme court, two key institutions of any autonomous state.
The existence of the appellate court legally bars residents of GB from litigation in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. One wonders if the purpose of naming the superior courts as the chief court instead of high court and the appellate court instead of the Supreme Court is to undermine the rights of the citizenry of GB.
The Gilgit-Baltistan Council, with the prime minister as its chairman, is almost dysfunctional. Its debut session is yet to be called since the current federal government took power. One can even bet on whether the prime minister would ever get a chance to preside over it or not.
This is not the end of the story. The most important ministerial portfolios rest with the council, which has handicapped the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly. Ministries under the sway of the council are corrupt fiefdoms awaiting their rulers for the last five years.
Moreover, the budget for the current fiscal year is already operational even without the Gilgit-Baltistan Council’s approval, thus violating the legal requirements of the package. But who bothers about legitimacy and the law?
Most importantly, one can ask whether the chief minister is the true decision-maker in GB. Unhappy about the bureaucracy’s hesitance in implementation of his questionable decisions, the chief minister reportedly wanted his companions to persuade the chief secretary to implement the decisions.
Likewise, in the aftermath of the Nanga Parbat massacre, the suspension and transfer of the GB chief secretary and inspector general of police by the interior minister without even informing the chief minister is enough to depict his helplessness in handling affairs.
The refusal of the GB accountant-general to release salaries to employees who were granted tenure by the chief minister also reflects the imbalance of power between the elected and the unelected.
The decision to make GB the gateway of the prime minister’s proposed economic corridor comes without taking the chief minister, the cabinet and the legislative assembly into confidence.
In protocol and appearance, the position of the GB chief minister resembles that of, say, the chief minister of Punjab, whereas in reality the GB chief executive has been assiduously stripped of his powers by the architects of the autonomy package.
This is an obvious instance of degenerative politics where policymakers deceive the public.
It appears that demagoguery and taking undue credit were the real intentions of the designers of this package, not benefit of the region.
Similarly, keeping mum on accountability and transparency procedures, as in .the GB governance law, has been the hallmark of policymakers.
In the last five years, GB saw very high levels of corruption. The National Accountability Bureau’s mandate in GB is questionable. Neither Pakistan’s Constitution nor the GB governance order has a provision for NAB’s role in the region.
The biggest beneficiary of this confusion is the omnipotent bureaucracy in GB. Unfortunately, the new political system, which is without a proper accountability mechanism, has enabled the bureaucracy and the politicians to mask their ineptitude.
No corruption cases have been registered against the small fish, let alone the big ones.
There is a whole list of ambiguities in the governance package ranging from the Ministry of Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan Affairs’ misadventures to the federal government’s unnecessary interventions to the GB chief secretary’s freestyle form of governance.
The bottom line is that the whole political process seems to be an outcome of what American scholar William T. Gormley calls “boardroom politics”.
What is the way ahead?
The media finds little that is useful to its interests here, the national politicians have no constituents in the region to mollify, the local ruling elite is a puppet in the hands of national party chiefs, nationalists are behind bars and the masses are confusing political paranoia with patriotism.
Because the policy window is going to be open next year in the form of elections in GB and because the PML-N never has been that popular in the region, this is an opportunity to grab popularity — to win the hearts of the masses by redressing the ambiguities in the governance package.
Without harming the Kashmir issue, GB can be declared a fifth province by adding the term ‘provisional province’ in the Constitution, whose status can be reverted when and where needed.
If the PML-N lacks the political will for such an endeavour, ironing out the obvious bugs in the GB government package is the least it could do.
The writer is a doctoral student at the Claremont Graduate University, Los Angeles.