The recent verdict of Gilgit Baltistan anti-terrorism court in an alleged blasphemy case against four people of Geo and Jang group has triggered a new debate pertaining to the unsettled political status of Gilgit Baltistan. Renowned legal experts of Pakistan have stated that the area does not fall in the constitutional territory of Pakistan that is why the courts in GB cannot trial any Pakistani citizen; hence in their opinion the case of Geo is out of the jurisdiction of Gilgit Baltistan’s judiciary. On the other side Mr. Parvaiz Rasheed, the federal minster for information has also made a statement, “The jurisdiction of our constitution is not beyond Pakistan’s boundaries”.
Finally a statement made by foreign ministry of Pakistan about GB’s unsettled political position has attracted the international community towards the issue of Gilgit Baltistan once again.
Credit goes to Geo, Jang and some other private media houses for generating this debate in mainstream media of Pakistan. In my opinion, it is high time to discuss the unsettled political status of this unlucky piece of land that is deprived of all political and fundamental rights for last 67 years.
The report of the fact finding mission of Human rights commission of Pakistan, published and launched on 25th October 2014 in Islamabad, has highlighted the political status of GB in comprehensive manner. The four members of this mission had detailed interactions with all segments of the society in Gilgit and Baltistan. The recommendations made by the HRCP fact-finding mission were based on the sentiments of deprivations expressed by all stake holders of Gilgit Baltistan during their meetings with the mission.
Based on the legal arguments made by legal experts and politicians no one can deny that Gilgit Baltistan does not fall in the constitutional jurisdiction of Pakistan. The article 1 of the constitution of Pakistan supports the statement made by Parvaiz Rasheed, the minister information Pakistan. The article defines the territories of Pakistan as follow;
“The territories of Pakistan Shall comprise: (a) The provinces of Balochistan, the Khyber Pakthunkhwa, the Punjab and the Sindh.(b) The Islamabad capital territory, hereinafter referred to as the Federal capital(c) Federally administrated tribal areas(d) Such States and territories as are or may be included in Pakistan, whether by accession or otherwise.”
In the light of the above definition of the territories of Pakistan, the Gilgit Baltistan is not particularly mentioned in any clause of the constitution of Pakistan, so it can be used as a legal reference that the constitution of Pakistan does not accept Gilgit Baltistan as its constitutional part.
On the other side it is a peculiar fact that the so called Gilgit Baltistan empowerment and self-Governance order 2009 defines the territories of Gilgit Baltistan separately, it’s as follow;
“Gilgit-Baltistan” means the areas comprising districts of Astore, Diamer, Ghanche, Ghizer, Gilgit, Hunza-Nagar, Skardu and such other districts as may be created from time to time.”
Apart from the debate on territory and constitutional jurisdiction, the citizenship of GBians is also in vague position. The constitution of Pakistan and Gilgit Baltistan empowerment and self-Governance order 2009 have two separate definitions of citizens of GB and Pakistan. The constitution of Pakistan defines the citizens of Pakistan as follow;
“Article 260: Definitions, 1. In the Constitution, unless the context otherwise requires, the following expressions have the meaning hereby respectively assigned to them, that is to say: – “citizen” means a citizen of Pakistan as defined by law.”
While the GB empowerment and self-governance order 2009 has a separate definition for the inhabitants of GB as citizens of GB not as citizens of Pakistan, it is as follow;
“Citizen” unless otherwise expressed in this Order “citizen” means a person who has a domicile of Gilgit-Baltistan.”
So the definition of citizenship is different in both legal documents. The GB empowerment and self-Governance order has separate definition of citizens hence the GBians cannot be considered the citizens of Pakistan according to the constitution of Pakistan and GB empowerment and self-Governance order 2009.Historically, the area is under the administrative control of Pakistan till the solution of Kashmiri dispute according to the resolutions passed by United Nations Commission on India and Pakistan (UNCIP). This commission was formed after the cease fire between India and Pakistan in 1948 to make recommendations for the better solution of Kashmir dispute. To run the affairs of Indian and Pakistani held Kashmir, both the countries were agreed to introduce the self-rule in both parts of Kashmir in India and Pakistan including Gilgit Baltistan. Pakistan has been introducing different packages to counter the demand of self-rule for the people of Gilgit Baltistan since 1974 after the abolishment of FCR. The last step in this regard was the political reforms package namely Gilgit Baltistan empowerment and self-Governance order 2009. This order was introduced by the then PPP regime. Earlier, such packages were introduced in 1972, 1994 and 2007.
The GB empowerment and self-Governance order 2009 is simply an executive order that is why it has no legal protection. The legal status of this order is self-explanatory. It is as follow;
“GOVERNMENT OF PAKISTAN, MINISTRY OF KASHMIR AFFAIRS AND NORTHERN AREAS Islamabad, the 9th September, 2009, AN ORDER to provide greater political empowerment and better governance to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan;
WHEREAS it is expedient to undertake necessary legislative, executive and judicial reforms for granting self-governance to the people of Gilgit Baltistan and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto;
NOW, THEREFORE, the Government of Pakistan is pleased to make the following Order:- 1. Short title, extent and commencement. – (1) This Order may be called the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order, 2009. (2) It extends to the whole of areas Gilgit-Baltistan. (3) It shall come into force on at once.”
Pakistan does not want to withdraw her stance regarding the Kashmir issue and also wants to satisfy the people of GB as they demand for their fundamental rights according to the resolutions of UNCIP. The successive Governments in Pakistan always tried to delegate some power to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan instead of full-fledged self-rule. The Governments have tried to delay the GB’s issue till the decision of the Kashmir dispute so that it would be used either for plebiscite, if any conducted under the supervision of UNO, or the area would be easily merged into the constitution of Pakistan without any objection of international community.
So the issue of GB is still unsettled owing to above mentioned policy laid down by the think tank of Islamabad. The people of GB rightly say that they have not committed any sin to be punished for such a long period on the basis of Kashmir issue.
In the light of above mentioned facts, the power centers in Islamabad do not encourage an open debate on the issue of GB but such incidents occur time and again like in this case of Geo that triggered the debate on the issue. Such debates don not only attract the policy making institutions in Pakistan but also the international community as well and generate awareness among the common masses of GB about their political rights. The intelligentsia in GB encourages such debates to make a way forward for the better solution for GB constitutional issue.
Now the question remains valid that whether GB is constitutional part of Pakistan or not? If it is not constitutional part of Pakistan then how a Pakistani citizen can be tried in the courts of GB and how the constitution and laws made by national assembly of Pakistan would be applicable in GB and how the people in GB can be charged under the sections of sedition when they demand for their rights? The debate should be conducted on with more vigor within the parameters of available legal references.
The writer is a Gilgit Based senior journalist and a human rights defender.