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GB province: a CPEC prerequisite

Published Feb 13, 2017 06:12am


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THE Pakistan government is projecting the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project as a panacea to all its problems, one which will result in unprecedented nationwide prosperity. Undoubtedly, an investment of the proposed scale and a project completed within a limited time frame is welcome, but a cautionary note is in order: mega projects of this scale also entail risks of equal magnitude. Therefore, it is vital to meticulously address all possible impediments in their implementation through careful planning in order to preclude any possibility of disruption in the smooth execution of projects of this nature.

One of the most crucial factors that should have been addressed prior to implementation was the settlement of the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), which is strategically located at the entry point of the CPEC route. In view of the legal ambiguity over the status of GB and foreseeable difficulties for the execution of the project that can be created by our enemies, regional stakeholders have repeatedly highlighted the undefined status of the region and the opaque legal framework under which this area is governed as issues that need to be addressed forthwith.

In line with this reasoning, last summer the local legislative assembly had unanimously passed a resolution demanding a provincial status for this region. Due to the historical linkage of this issue with the Kashmir dispute, the assembly produced a carefully worded statement articulating that the demand for the status of a province was provisional and subject to the final settlement of the Kashmir dispute according to the UN resolution. This followed the precedent of a similar international border treaty with China in this region.

Gilgit-Baltistan is strategically located at the entry point of the CPEC route.

It appeared that the apprehensions of the stakeholders were justified when reports emerged of recent RAW-backed activity aimed at destabilising CPEC implementation. Fortunately, due to sound intelligence, police were able to catch anti-state elements involved in planning disturbance that could seriously threaten the CPEC route. Arms, propaganda material and a money trail were discovered, and the plan was foiled. As if to settle an additional score, the hostile elements planned to launch their nefarious activities from within an area that takes pride in the notable sacrifices made by many of their youth in the Pakistan-India conflict.

During his visit to GB a year ago, the prime minister established a committee under the adviser on foreign affairs for constitutional reforms for GB, with the proviso that the report on the findings would be submitted in three months’ time. Unfortunately, except for occasional news leaks and statements by ill-informed local leaders of the PML-N, nothing concrete has materialised. It then transpired that, apparently against the backdrop of virulent statements made by the Indian leadership reiterating their ‘claim’ to GB as an integral part of their country and the surfacing of anti-state activities, the Foreign Office scrambled to arrange a briefing for the local assembly. But, instead of discussing new options for constitutional rights, the forum just gave the oft-repeated excuse that nothing could be done in this regard due to its linkage with the Kashmir dispute.

The Foreign Office must remember that in 2009 when the PPP government promulgated the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order, 2009, the same arguments were advanced. To the credit of the PPP, its government overruled these weak excuses, following up with swift, bold action by promulgating the order.

Unfortunately, it stopped short of declaring GB a province due to objections by Azad Jammu & Kashmir leaders, from whom the people of GB can expect little, as the former have repeatedly let down GB starting with the infamous Karachi Agreement when without consulting the locals, the control of GB was peremptorily handed over to the Pakistan bureaucracy to the detriment of fundamental constitutional rights for GB residents. Once again, like their predecessors, the leaders are objecting to reforms in the area. In one of their recent conferences, they even denied the GB leaders the right to speak.

A participant from GB in the Foreign Office briefing highlighted the irony of the Pakistan government rejecting the desire of GB residents for integration. It must be understood that the younger generation, unlike the more tolerant older generation, is likely to try and compel the government to talk to them on their own terms. The denial of full status of Pakistani citizenship to GB residents has made the new generation sceptical about the government’s intentions, as they cannot appreciate the historical context. They openly question the wisdom of accepting a lesser status despite unwavering loyalty towards and sacrifices for Pakistan.

The recent conspiracy to poison the minds of the youth by a well-resourced network should be the first omen of future threats. For the first time, a group of misguided GB residents has been arrested for possession of weapons and proof of financial support by anti-state elements on the payroll of India.

Based on their constitutionally enshrined claims, the Indians are vociferously objecting to construction of CPEC in the region. On the other hand, the Pakistani government, despite the steadfastness of the local population for unconditional integration with Pakistan, continues to be disoriented in its policy. It is high time to address the issue forcefully and incorporate the area in Pakistan with the condition that if and when a plebiscite is held, the people will be given a choice to exercise their vote. Inertia on this vital issue is no longer a choice, as the growing discontent can give rise to agitation that can imperil the legal status of the CPEC project route.

The Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order, 2009 was the first major, courageous step towards complete integration of the area thus providing the legal bedrock for the success of CPEC. It is strongly advocated that before hostile elements gain further influence in the area, this matter should be settled forthwith and GB should be provisionally declared a fifth province of Pakistan subject to a final settlement of the Kashmir dispute.

The writer, a former IGP Sindh, belongs to Gilgit-Baltistan.

Published in Dawn, February 13th, 2017

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (25) Closed

Alba Feb 13, 2017 06:53am

The CPEC is the only panacea rural Pakistan has, and Gilgit - Baltistan should be treated fairly. Pakistan's stock market has gotten off to a good start but Pakistan badly needs the planned economic zones of the CPEC. Pakistan's government has borrowed money to fund the project so it has no money to to give everyone with is hand outstretched. People are not making profits on the road yet. It is a huge infrastructure project at this point. Pakistani businessmen in the provinces, if they want to make money, must invest in their own business like trucking company, or truck stop, or their own building plant and equipment. This is not a lottery or a give away. Pakistan not longer wants a failed central economy. People must do their own investing in the profit making themselves.

JA-AUSTRALIA Feb 13, 2017 07:25am

I believe Pakistan would be well served by breaking up the large provinces into smaller, Swiss style, cantons. It will help devolve power down to local authorities, fostering accountability, and also break the dominance of the two dynastic political parties, PML-N and PPP.

Ali Vazir Feb 13, 2017 12:32pm

There can be no denial the fact that the incompetent and intolerant majority lot sitting at the center of govt as well as bureaucracy only understand the language of bully. They do not believe in tolerance, understanding, sharing and caring. This is the biggest impedement which resulted in fall of Dhaka, building grievances in Kashmir and now even Gilgit Baltistan. Since we do not expect much better from them, the saner elements need to raise their voice and make themselves heard to provide equal rights to all the citizens of Pakistan, including GB and AJK.

alI Feb 13, 2017 03:29pm

Being part of GB I do agree on most of the ideas as put forth by the writer. As GB lies at a strategic location and vitally important like Kashmir decisions must be taken cautiously by political leaders of Pakistan. Now sadly by and large Indian involvement cannot be ignored. GB, has shown full support to Pakistan, despite being ignored since partition unlike Bangladesh and never obstructed anyone's freedom and empowerment unlike Kashmir. CPEC is an opportunity - Constitutional rights are the rights of every citizens, depriving those means shear injustices- However the most alarming section of this article which is also true is the growth of intolerant, and more demanding populace. Contrary to this, the picture missed by the writer is the literacy rate of GB, which is much higher as compared to others provinces. The literate and Educated Youth have not only denied most of the ill-traditions like ethnicity, provincialism etc, but also willing to show unconditional support with Pakistan.

Fazil Ali Feb 13, 2017 04:44pm

This is the analytical article of an experienced Ex Law enforcement high ranked officer. You can say that he is now indicating the pulse rate of the neglected population of GB which is ready to turning alarming situation if the constitutional issue may not be settled. The new generation which is educated and more vigilant about the human rights issues as compare to their forefathers are outspoken and even fighting their depressed nation's case at the United Nations Forum. Establishment of Pakistan is not taking this important issue seriously and waiting for another WANA and tribal area incidents.

Mike London Feb 13, 2017 06:29pm

According to international Law any third party investments /projects are illegal in a disputed territory.

Shehz Feb 13, 2017 07:43pm

@Mike London you mean like the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories right?

Shehz Feb 13, 2017 07:46pm

@JA-AUSTRALIA when you, or anyone else, gives statements like "also break the dominance of the two dynastic political parties, PML-N and PPP", you assume that there is a constitutional power above them?

You don't tell a bully what your intentions are, you just go do it.

KAMAL Feb 13, 2017 08:57pm

@Shehz Read the article. We are talking about GB not Israel.

Aly alp-ERCElan Feb 13, 2017 09:33pm

Agree. But please lets all think of every district as province. And every province as equal member in a federation which then becomes a confederation of SAARC ...

ghaznavi Feb 13, 2017 09:35pm

"constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB)"

There is no constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan as this area belongs to greater Jammu and Kashmir. The only way the status of this area can be changed in a legitimized way is through an internationally observed referendum or plebiscite. Pakistan has no right to annex this area without giving the people a chance to decide their fate. It is time to practice what we preach.

global citizen Feb 13, 2017 10:12pm

Pakistani and especially Punjabi elite can no longer ignore this core issue of GB. Long live GB and long live Pakistan.

Rp Feb 13, 2017 10:36pm

@KAMAL - trust me Shehz has read the article very well - what he is trying to say here is that Pakistan is no different than Israel in the sense that both countries are trying to strengthen their footholds in the territories they don't legally own by building there.

Khalid Feb 14, 2017 01:17am

It's all about Punjab and Sharif family, let their government go, you will have scandals and scandals in all projects because this family is behind all the agreements and contracts.

jA-Australia Feb 14, 2017 03:26am

@Shehz The entrenched parties are too powerful. The reason India has better accountability is that it has lots of states, which makes collusion between states difficult, and keeps everyone else honest. In Pakistan, parties from Punjab and Sindh take turns looting the country, each turning a blind eye to the other because they are waiting their turn, while the rest of the country looks on helplessly.

Mir Zahir Feb 14, 2017 03:33am

Strong governance is the key issue, absence of which is the biggest risk in the long term success of CPEC. Somebody, should compile the risk register on this project from lack of governance, presence of the key institutions led by front men.

irfan Feb 14, 2017 07:05am

GB people are most loyal and patriotic Pakistani then rest of the country, highly educated along with almost zero crime rate (especially in Baltistan division). NLI (Northern light infantry regiment) and GB scouts are best (Particularly 7 NLI unit) part of Pakistan army. Since independent (01 November 1948) of GB and affiliation with Pakistan, federal government is violating the basic human rights of UNO and treating inhumanly. Pakistani government is controlling GB under the umbrella of self made and imposed Karachi treaty (a black treaty in which decision were about the fate of GB without their representation). You may find the un ended series of lies from federal government and establishment of Pakistan regarding human, constitutional and most recently CPEC rights of GB. Pakistani government himself has signed on the disputed status of GB in UNO by declaring it the part of kashmir issue which is far from the reality, history and 1947 & 1948 status of GB. Still the Pakistani government is not taking the issue seriously which make leads to another disaster. It is requested to all of you to read the UNO resolution and history of GB before making and comments and opinion. Thank you

Akil Akhtar Feb 14, 2017 07:23am

Why is GB linked to kashmir....?

aam admi Feb 14, 2017 10:26am

bad news for pak Chabahar port in Iran, in which India has major investments, is expected to open in a month Afghanistan Consul General said the port will provide impetus to trade between India and Afghanistan It will also provide access to Afghanistan and central Asian countries by-passing Pakistan

jA-Australia Feb 14, 2017 12:39pm

@Shehz The only way to get rid of these corrupt people in a democratic society is to expose their corruption and incompetence so people can vote for someone else. Corruption and incompetence are exposed more readily in a smaller constituency than a bigger one, hence my suggestion that Pakistan will be better served by having small cantons instead of large provinces.

Pasdar hussain Feb 14, 2017 07:48pm

Great info absolutely so nice wordings.

raja Feb 14, 2017 08:15pm

The most important thing that government need to understand is the 'WILL' of local people. Without inclusion of local citizen, the government and so-called 'establishment' never meet the desire results. In past, government established many committees under bureaucratic influence to resolve GB issue but failed because of exclusion of local people. Recognizing the fact that the GB as choke point of CPEC, civil-military need to take bold steps incorporating the will of local people.

Abid Abdullah Feb 15, 2017 10:47am

Informative and well-written..

Omar Feb 15, 2017 11:53am

Should integrate the people of Gilgit-Baltistan who fought valiantly to join Pakistan with their sacrifices and should be given their due rights. They are not Kashmiris ethinically or culturally and should be treated as such. Should make FATA and GB one with Pakistan. That is their right!

BOO Ali Feb 15, 2017 08:47pm

well elaborated column sir, Thank you