Many members of the Gilgit – Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) had been raising objections with the federal government, accusing it of concentrating policy making power in the hands of the non-elected GB Council. The voices of dissent, few in number and frequency, were not very strong though.
Last week, however, the barely audible complaints turned into a rare roar.
“Vital departments and subjects have fraudulently been kept with the [GB] Council”, Law Minister Wazir Shakeel told his fellow legislators in the assembly, responding to a question. He went on to say that the GBLA’s authority does not exceed that of a “municipal corporation”, authorized to charge some taxes and legislate on issues like rights of animals.
The otherwise cool lawyer-turned-politician, in an unprecedented manner, lambasted the federal government by saying that a “fraud” had been committed with the people of Gilgit – Baltistan, ‘by depriving their elected leaders of power and authority’.
Shakil’s stand brought to surface the conflict and mistrust that has existed between members of the GBLA and the GB Council since promulgation of the presidential ordinance in 2009. The “Self Governance and Empowerment Ordinance” had proposed formation of a non-elected Council, practically functioning above the Gilgit – Baltistan Legislative Assembly.
The GB Council, dominated by the federal government, is authorized to make policies and laws related to water, minerals, energy, tourism and forest, some of the most strategic resources of Gilgit – Baltistan. The Council is also authorized to levy taxes in the region.
In this scenario, it is not difficult to see that the package is skewed in favour of Islamabad. This tilt, in reality, is a negation of the spirit of the 2009 presidential order, which promised “empowerment” and “self governance” for the region.
For real ’empowerment’ and ‘self governance’ the federal authorities will have to relinquish more of their powers and let the elected representatives of GB make laws and policies related to the region’s resources and other important issues. This will create a sense of ownership among the elected leaders of GB and help them gain confidence for resolving issues of the people. Symbolic structures and gestures can be good political statements, but they will fail to address grievances of the region’s populace.