THE federal cabinet on Aug 29 unanimously approved the new Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Ordinance 2009, giving more internal and political autonomy to the Northern Areas.
The Northern Areas was part of the formerly princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. At the time of partition, the people had opted to be a part of Pakistan.
But to their bad luck, still the Northern Areas is not fully included in Pakistan. Its inhabitants have never had any representation in the National Assembly or have been included in the process of decision-making.
This is more than 1.8 million people having diverse linguistic, ethnic and religious groups continuously demanding basic rights which have been given to other federating units of Pakistan, including the Azad Kashmir Legislative Assembly, but their genuine demands have not been acceded to.
In 1999, the Pakistan Supreme Court issued a landmark verdict directing Islamabad to extend fundamental freedom to the Northern Areas, but the region is still ruled by a string from Islamabad through the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas.
On the other hand, India is considering this strategically important region as a part of Occupied Kashmir.
The government has claimed that all stakeholders were taken on board prior to getting approval of the ordinance from the cabinet. However, it seems that this has fallen short of the aspirations of the people.
Many have termed it as old wine in a new bottle or gimmickry of words or political drama.
It would have been best if it was debated in the National Assembly and provided constitutional protection as per the aspirations of the people concerned.
MEHBOOB ALI LALANI