FOR a period of six decades, following its accession to Pakistan after a popular uprising and a bloody struggle by the locals against the repressive Dogra rule, Gilgit-Baltistan was seconded to Pakistan by the Kashmiri leaders, who did not represent the residents of GB.
A representative government and a legislature in GB were established for the first time by the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order of 2009. While this action was welcomed by the people as a step in the right direction, it still fell short of their aspiration to be fully integrated with Pakistan and for constitutionally guaranteed autonomy on par with the rest of Pakistan.
Therefore, on Aug 11, 2015, the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly passed a resolution that this region should be granted the status of a constitutional province to meet the long-standing demand of the people and to remove the indirect control of the federation. Earlier, on Sept 29, 2014, the assembly had also adopted a resolution that this region should be declared the fifth province of Pakistan.
Gilgit-Baltistan awaits full integration with Pakistan.
Both resolutions call for designation of the region as a province of Pakistan. However, a close reading of the two resolutions shows that the latest resolution addressed the oft-repeated reservations of the government of Pakistan vis-à-vis their stance on the Kashmir issue.
The resolution recalls the valiant struggle of the people of GB for liberation of about 72,000 kilometres of the area and subsequent voluntary accession to Pakistan with a view to the latter being a Muslim-majority country. It further highlights how the granting of constitutional rights to the people of GB has been overlooked and neglected. The members of the house who have been elected by the people in an open and transparent election are obliged to express the collective will of the people of the region.
When the Legislative Assembly speaks, it is the people of GB, who are demanding their constitutional rights. The assembly has demanded the representation of the people of GB in the National Assembly, the Senate and all other national institutions where decisions taken affect their daily lives. The resolution further elaborates that the proposed arrangement should be treated as interim and subject to the final outcome of a plebiscite in line with the United Nations resolutions for the entire region of Jammu and Kashmir that has so far remained an elusive dream.
The Legislative Assembly has gone the extra mile to address the concerns of the government of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir by specifically demanding a temporary arrangement that is subject to the final resolution of the Kashmir issue.
The case against granting provincial status to GB rests upon two main considerations. The first is that it would be a breach of UN Security Council resolutions, which assert that the final disposition of Jammu and Kashmir would be made in accordance with the will of the people of the former princely state, and that declaring it a province of Pakistan would be seen as amounting to a ‘final disposition’ of the state.
Secondly, Pakistan has treated GB as a part of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir because the people of the area had already opted for Pakistan and would certainly vote for Pakistan in case of a plebiscite. The people of GB accepted this status to their own detriment as the Ministry of Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan has gone on to administer the area without the input of the people of the region.
Federal laws are unilaterally extended to the areas and taxes imposed through an executive order of the president. Even the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order of 2009 that has created the Legislative Assembly can simply be repealed or amended by the Pakistan government upon a simple summary initiated by the ministry.
Before the last election, the creation of an interim government amendment was mandated via an order of the federal government. This direct control has been further strengthened by nominating the minister who has resultantly become the unelected chief executive of GB, thereby further diminishing the position of the elected head of government.
Leaving the area in a constitutional void not only violates the fundamental rights of the populace but also raises questions about the legal authority of Pakistan to administer the region. It is time that the proposal that comprehensively safeguards the stated position of Pakistan on Kashmir, by the local assembly is given serious consideration. The establishment of a committee for constitutional rights amounts to consigning the issue to cold storage.
It is vital that the legal status of this region is defined in the Constitution of Pakistan, thereby creating a firm legal linkage with the federation. Without such a legal provision, even the most important China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project is likely to be challenged on the basis of legitimacy of the rule of the federation by elements inimical to Pakistan. Ominous signs reflecting this stance are surfacing in local politics as well as in the hostile reporting in Indian media.
The votes cast in favour of an incarcerated nationalist leader Baba Jan in Hunza should be enough to set the alarm bells ringing and create an impetus for addressing this issue before frustration transforms into protest. The widely educated youth of the region have already begun to raise their voice in protest over the leadership towing the line of the Kashmir and GB affairs ministry. The latter is seen as representing narrow vested interests that seek to maintain status quo so as to continue their domination of these fiercely patriotic people.
Curiously, the chief minister who is leader of the house is also giving statements in the media that are at odds with the resolution of the assembly, which represents an articulate and viable constitutional proposal. It is time for a bold decision to seize this fleeting opportunity presented by the elected representatives of the people. Further procrastination would be tantamount to playing into the hands of the elements determined to ‘hurt’ Pakistan by targeting the CPEC. Tomorrow may be too late to make amends.
The writer, a former IGP Sindh, belongs to Gilgit-Baltistan.
Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2015