ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court was told on Thursday that the federal government had appointed a high-level committee to examine the constitutional, administrative and governance reforms for Gilgit-Baltistan (GB).
The federal minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan will be the committee’s convener. Other members will be the federal law minister, the Attorney General, Gilgit-Baltistan governor, the GB law minister, the secretaries for foreign affairs, defence and Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan, the GB chief secretary, and the joint secretary (finance) of GB Council.
A seven-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, had taken up a set of petitions challenging the Gilgit-Baltistan Order of 2018, Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order of 2009 as well as the right of the people of the region to be governed through their chosen representatives.
The chief justice acknowledged the sensitivity of the matter and observed that the court would commence regular hearing soon and decide the matter on its own in case the government did not pursue it.
The notification was presented before the apex court by Attorney General Anwar Mansoor. He stated under the terms of reference, the committee had been entrusted with the review of reforms in the light of Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018, the judgement of the Supreme Court in Al Jihad Trust case 1999 and recommendations of the attorney general.
The committee will also examine the status of Gilgit-Baltistan in the light of UN resolutions on Kashmir and the stand taken by the government at the international level.
Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, who was appointed amicus curiae by the apex court earlier, pleaded that in view of the sensitivity of the matter, the committee should be allowed to complete its task, but the matter should not linger on for long.
Nawaz Kharal, one of the counsel, through a petition has pleaded with the court to declare certain laws as illegal and contrary to the May 1999 Supreme Court judgement in the Al Jihad Trust case. These laws are: the Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO) No. 786 (1) of Sept 9, 2009, and the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order 2009 (amended in February 2015) empowering the minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas (KANA) to act as GB governor).
Recalling the 1999 verdict which had held that the two million people of Northern Areas were citizens of Pakistan, the counsel said the judgement had ordered the federal government to make administrative and legislative measures for ensuring the people of Northern Areas enjoyed their rights as guaranteed in the 1973 constitution.
Regarding the right to access to justice through an independent judiciary, the apex court had asked the federal government to treat the Chief Court of the Northern Areas at par with a high court.
The jurisdiction exercised by the courts of Gilgit-Baltistan be enlarged so as to include the powers of entertaining constitutional petitions for enforcement of fundamental rights, the court observed.
The counsel further argued the government had also been asked to give the people the right to approach a higher forum for leave to appeal against the chief court’s orders.
In 1999, the apex court had given a timeframe requiring the government to initiate administrative and legislative measures in Gilgit-Baltistan within six months by making amendments in the constitution and other set of laws.
Such amendments should aim at ensuring the people of Northern Areas the right to be governed through their chosen representative and to have access to justice through an independent judiciary.
But the federal government has failed to comply with the 1999 judgement even after a decade.
Notices to newspapers
A three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by the chief justice, withdrew a notice issued to English daily The News for carrying a headline in its issue of Nov 14: “Govt lacks capability, planning, says CJP.”
The court also withdrew a similar notice issued to daily Jang.
The court cautioned that action would be taken in future in case the court proceedings were misreported. Hanif Khalid, the Editor of Jang, appeared before the Supreme Court.
In the notice the chief justice had expressed surprise over headlines in the two newspapers since the court never made such observations about the federal government. Instead, observations were made against the Capital Development Authority (CDA), the chief justice observed.
“This is an instance of gross misreporting on behalf of the media group,” the order stated.
Published in Dawn, November 16th, 2018