[Dawn Editorial] GB autonomy under threat

THE appointment of the federal minister for Kashmir affairs as governor of Gilgit-Baltistan has been criticised across the political spectrum.

It is being described by political parties as evidence of the PML-N’s ‘pre-poll rigging’ in the region in order to create a tailor-made government in the upcoming legislative assembly elections.

The PPP, which ruled the region under the previous elected set-up, is not happy with the appointment of the caretaker cabinet or the governor, while the PTI has voiced its reservations about GB’s chief election commissioner.

In fact, on Monday, there were reported protests in GB and Islamabad against the governor’s appointment while even some local N-League leaders are said to be unhappy with the governor’s appointment by the central leadership in Islamabad.

Among the leading complaints of all parties is why a serving federal minister from outside the region was selected for the post, instead of a local politician.

It is clear that the PML-N’s efforts to mould the region’s political realities as per its liking are having a divisive effect.

Not only is the electoral process being made controversial even before the first vote is cast, GB’s limited autonomy, which it secured in 2009, is in danger of being usurped by Islamabad.

While nationwide the trend is to grant the provinces and regions greater devolved powers, attempts are being made to go back to ruling GB through fiat from the federal capital.

Change in GB’s administrative set-up began during Gen Musharraf’s rule, but it was the previous PPP-led federal government that promulgated the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order, 2009, altering the region’s name from the Northern Areas and giving the local elected leadership a greater degree of power. While these steps helped develop a political culture, local leaders complained that the federal bureaucracy interfered far too much in regional affairs.

But moves like appointing a governor from outside the region, without consulting local stakeholders, smack of an attitude opposed to devolution and autonomy.

Perhaps the key problem here — which allows the centre to manipulate GB’s affairs — is the lack of constitutional clarity about the region’s status. By linking GB to the Kashmir dispute, the state is denying local people the opportunity to fully participate in national life and to run their own affairs.

The region is frankly neither here nor there constitutionally; technically it is not a part of Pakistan, yet its limited autonomy is usurped at will.

A more long-lasting solution to GB’s constitutional dilemma, one that is not dependent on the resolution of the Kashmir question, is needed.

It should either have the powers of a province — as its people have demanded — or it be given a status similar to that of Azad Kashmir.

Moreover, the PML-N needs to ensure the caretaker set-up is acceptable to all political players in order to make the upcoming polls free of controversy.

Published in Dawn, February 17th, 2015

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