Judiciary of Gilgit-Baltistan and its Jurisdiction

Fida Hassan

Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-governance Ordinance 2009 is a milestone in the constitutional and political history of Gilgit-Baltistan. The region consisting of nine districts was formerly known as the Northern Areas Pakistan. It is a self-governing region.

The 2009 ordinance opened up ways for almost every institution in the region to operate more efficiently in pursuit of its set goals. The said ordinance provided independent authority to Judiciary, Legislature and Executive to function within their spheres. Judiciary being a respected institution of every state and region acquired an independent status to maneuver more excellently in the particular region.

The Gilgit-Baltistan Supreme Appellate Court is the highest court in the region, constituted under Article 60 of 2009 Ordinance. It is assumed to be the Supreme Court of Gilgit –Baltistan that can function only within that territory. The Gilgit-Baltistan Supreme Appellate court has given its verdict on an enormous number of cases on constitutional matters after its establishment. Many suo motu cases pertaining to matters of public importance and of general interests have also been decided by the Supreme Appellate Court of Gilgit-Baltistan. It is anticipated that these significant judgments of said court in lieu of constitutional and general issues will go a long way in strengthening the judiciary and promoting judicial independence. The commencement of the publication of the Gilgit-Baltistan Law Reports (GBLR), is also a great step taken by the Supreme Appellate Court to preserve its judgments for guidance and citation.

Having said all this, two most recent decrees issued by the Anti-Terrorism Court of Gilgit-Baltistan, played a good role of evidence to question jurisdiction of courts beyond the drawn boundaries. The first attempt was the verdict by an Anti-Terrorist Court sentencing the Editor in-Chief of the Jang Media Group Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, anchor Dr Shaista Lodhi, actor Veena Malik, and her spouse Assad Khatak to 26 years of imprisonment in absentia. This judgment by a session judge of Gilgit-Baltistan has created a new controversy on the constitutional and legal status of G-B. Second mistake or may be considered a blunder, committed by the said court was sentencing MQM leader Altaf Hussain for 81 years of rigorous imprisonment and issuance of order to confiscate his property over his anti-state speeches. Following judgements surprised the whole nation and particularly the concerned to challenge judicial domain of that court and region as a whole.

Residents of Gilgit-Baltistan currently out of their premises, living in different parts of Pakistan and throughout the world have every legitimate right to ask from so called authorities to clarify their authoritative boundaries in this perspective. The inhabitants deem these decisions not more than just pieces of embarrassment and mockery, creating a bad impact on overall mentality of the people. How come that an Anti-Terrorist Court of a region whose constitutional limitations has dragged it into a status of limbo, confidently passes irrelevant and funny decisions to mock over its own judicial status/authority? Such activities contemplate the actions and judgements of these courts been controlled by a third party, that is continuously working to preserve current disputed status quo of the region to refrain from future possible protests for their constitutional rights. Peremptory request to the worthy courts is to look into internal matters that remain undecided for years. Furthermore despite of showing over-authoritativeness, one may suggest that these courts are expected to take commendable initiatives to demand a clear constitutional status of the region in general and guaranteed entitlement of fundamental rights to the residents in particular. Out of domain decrees issued on various national and international cases will earn nothing except a bad name for the prestigious state machinery i.e. judiciary.

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