THE government’s plans to accord a provisional provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan are progressing steadily and the law ministry has finalised the proposed legislation. As reported in this paper, the proposed law that has already been submitted to Prime Minister Imran Khan, will not affect Pakistan’s position on the issue of Jammu & Kashmir as per the UN resolutions. The provisional status is meant to signify that the final status of GB will be determined according to the requirements of the UN resolutions. The draft of this constitutional amendment bill proposes a provincial assembly for GB as well as representation of people from GB in parliament in Islamabad. It also proposes that the Chief Court of Gilgit-Baltistan may be abolished and replaced with a high court, while the Supreme Appellate Court be either abolished or re-established like the Supreme Court of Azad Jammu & Kashmir. If it is abolished then the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Pakistan may be extended to GB. The Election Commission of Gilgit-Baltistan will also be merged with the Election Commission of Pakistan and its chairman will be made a member of the ECP if this constitutional amendment is adopted.

This is a step in the right direction. The people of GB have argued for a provisional provincial status for many years and in March this year the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly had passed a unanimous decision demanding such a status. Governments in Pakistan have remained reluctant to give this status for fear that such a step may have adverse repercussions for Pakistan’s long-standing and principled position on the Kashmir issue. However, it has now become clear that the wishes of the people of GB must be respected and they be given greater representation and rights to govern themselves. The strategic area has gained more importance with the establishing of CPEC and there is a greater need than ever to integrate it further into the mainstream.

Last year, all political parties were reported to have agreed to the provisional provincial status after the GB elections. The proposed law has been discussed with relevant people in GB as well as AJK. The government should once again take the opposition into confidence about this major move so that the amendment can be passed unanimously. This issue should be above partisan politics and all political stakeholders should take ownership of it. However, every care must be taken to ensure that the text of the amendment is legally watertight and does not in any way dilute Pakistan’s position on Kashmir. It may therefore be prudent to have the law vetted by international legal experts as well as diplomats who will be required to defend it at foreign forums if a challenge does arise. The amendment should also be debated thoroughly in parliament and at all public forums before it is put to vote and adopted.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2021

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