The first Gilgit Baltistan(GB) Legislative Assembly, elected under the Gilgit Baltistan Empowerment and self-Governance Ordinance 2009, completed its five year tenure last year and new elections are expected within a couple of months. No doubt, elections are powerful process to empower people to be part of the governance, however, because of the vague constitutional status of the region different questions are raised about the elections and current governance system in GB. For example, how the new elections would respond the long waiting constitutional issue of GB? Would the coming assembly/government be different from previous assembly in term of autonomy and performance? Would the new assembly be able to resolve the huge challenges of the areas such as education, health and infrastructure?
After the independence from the Dogras, GB area has been ruled through different administrative systems without full constitutional rights. In 2009, the PPP government introduced some reforms through an ordinance called Gilgit Baltistan Empowerment and self-Governance Ordinance 2009. Through this ordinance it was attempted to provide the region a so called province like status. For example, the Northern Areas council was changed to Giglit Baltistan Legislative assembly, chief executive was given the named of chief minister and a position of governor was created. Apparently the new administrative set up sounded like a provincial status but without representation in the National assembly and senate.
Looking at the administrative reforms, the people of GB were happy thinking that they would have comparatively an empowered assembly/government and their challenges would be responded quickly. However, no breakthrough was observed during the five years in the development of the region. Therefore, some are of view that the reforms were mere changes of names instead of a real constitutional autonomy.
A quick glance at the performance of the last government indicates that except giving new name to the area(from Northern Areas to Giglit Bultistan) no major steps were taken to improve the lives of the people in region. The media reports show that the government had constantly been under criticism for different reasons such as corruption, slow pace of development, lack of power, and failure to take steps for constitutional rights.
The story of the corruption of the previous government had been constantly highlighted in the media. For example, the education department was the worst effected as massive irregularities were proved by different investigations in the appointments of hundreds of teachers in schools. This shows that with the increasing influence of the main stream parties in the region the culture of corruption is also soaring.
Similarly, the development process of the area has been viewed very slow compare to Musharraf era. Musharraf era is still remembered for the distinct developmental initiations such as Karakorum International University, region wide roads, bridges etc. During the last five year no such prominent projects were observed in region. Even some projects collapsed before their completion, for example two bridges collapsed in Hunza Nagar district during their construction phase.
It was expected that legislative assembly would come up with some solution to the long pending constitutional issue of the region. However, no progress was seen in the five years in this important matter. Responding to their failure the assembly members complained that because of the limited power they could not fulfil the expectations of the people. The lack of power of the assembly was exposed further when long and peaceful demonstrations were held in the region under the banner of Awami Action Committee to restore a subsidy on wheat.
The recent verdict of an Anti-Terrorism court in Gilgit against Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman and others in a blasphemy case, has intensified the debate whether GB court’s decision applies in other Part of Pakistan. This decision has spot lighted the constitutional dilemma of the administrative region.
The new appointment of Ch. Barjees Tahir as governor for GB has created further confusion about the constitutional status of the region. This decision shows how serious is the PMLn government to empower the people of the region.
It is evident that the current political system is not sufficient to fulfil the basic rights of the people of the GB. Various human rights organizations have shown their concerns over the human rights violations in regions due to lack of constitutional rights. For example, last year the Senate Committee on Human Rights and Human Rights commission of Pakistan visited to GB to observe the human rights situation. In their report they have highlighted many human rights violations in the area and strongly recommended to improve the situation in the region.
The people of G-B are awakening and increasingly becoming conscious about their identity and basic rights. Under current administrative system, some are skeptic about the coming election that would make any major difference in lives of people. However, the coming election is a real test for the people of GB how they play their role in electing fair and capable people as their representatives who can respond the gigantic challenges of the area.
Along the coming government of GB, the leadership of the country and the civil society need to think seriously about the long pending constitutional issues of GB. There is a dire need to clarify the conditional position of the area in order to end the constitutional dilemma which has been causing frustration for the people of GB for a long time.