The ‘5th Province’: A CPEC by-product

Awais Ali Khan 

Current whispers about the federation’s soon-to-happen “declaration of Gilgit-Baltistan as the de facto fifth province, with two ‘observer’ seats in the National Assembly”, have triggered a debate in political quarters, across the country. The provincial government in GB seems toothless in voicing the region’s concerns and aspirations vis-a-vis CPEC, towards which other provinces (Balochistan and KPK ) have already shown reservations. KPK’s Chief Minister out rightly rejects the federal government’s skewed attitude towards Punjab, and KPK being neglected in CPEC proceedings, in contrast to what was decided in CPEC related all party conference. Whereas, the GB government seems in utter perplexity, with federal-government-cum-party strings, attached to their verbiage and fidelity.

GB’s role in this corridor is like that of wind pipe in the human breathing system; it is the only region in Pakistan connected directly with China, so it can be see as the trachea of the CPEC breathing system.

Despite of the Indian reservations on passing the CPEC route through a ‘disputed territory’ ( GB), the Pak-China commitment to bring this project forth seems unquestionable. Despite of Chinese offer of building a corridor in Indian occupied territory, India seems unhappy with CPEC.

To resolve the ‘legality’ issue to some extent, China and Pakistan apparently seem to have agreed to ‘annex GB to Pakistan’s temporarily’, provisionally, till final disposal of the never-ending Kashmir issue.

Clearly, China wants to make its investment secure. Its emphasis and advocacy for GB to be declared ‘ad hoc’ Pakistani part is suitable to their interests.

The already delicate issue has becomes more vulnerable because Pakistan has yet to formulate a sustainable and comprehensive mechanism for distributing the benefits, and even before that, creating a map of the routes of districts through which the corridor will pass. This route will also be a conduit for various aligned services, like optic fiber, electricity, gas and a proposed railway track’. The stakes are high and each province wants an increasingly larger part of the pie.

First question that pops into mind is, will both eastern and western routes have the same facilities? Or, in other words, will the services and facilities be duplicated? (Will that make any financial sense?) And, if the services will not be duplicated, then which of the two or more proposed routes will be the conduit for the many riches to follow? These questions have created a noisy debate in the country, with some blaming the Punjab centered PMLN of deliberating maneuvering to deprive the smaller units, and accumulating all the benefits in the Punjab, which is the largest province of the country.

Pakistan’s federal government is walking a tight rope. The ‘assurances’ of justice are not proving to be of any significance. The trust deficit between the Punjab and the rest of Pakistan is again surfacing. There are three major issues; Firstly, with the accusations  of the “P” in CPEC being Punjab and not Pakistan, for ‘practical purpose’, the government faces internal opposition and backlash from provinces as well as political parties. Secondly, it’s about GB’s issue linked to Kashmir, and interest of people of GB, Kashmir, China and India. Thirdly, the issues pertaining to  making GB even an ‘ad-hoc’ province, and development of political consensus,

Firstly, internal consensus building seems missing, as till now ‘only’ the western routes (passing through Punjab) are being constructed. Other provinces, agitating already, in response to the federation’s allegedly partisan approach, can take the situation further, potentially turning it into another Kalabagh dam project, if their concerns are not timely addressed. The parliamentary committee or other relevant forums need to become more functional and take the executive to task for the many concerns being raised everywhere. More equitable distribution of resources will ensure sense of commitment, as well as future stability for the multi-billion dollar investment. Who gets what, and how much, needs to sorted out and rationalized, popularized, to ensure that justice prevails. The air of secrecy around CPEC is detrimental.

The second issue about GB’s ad-hoc provincial status, has two dimensions; One is its effect on Pakistan’s principled stand on Kashmir issue. The stance can be ‘preserved’ through an arrangement that clearly states and explains it as a provisional arrangement, till the resolution of the Kashmir dispute, whenever it happens. It has to be done with such a political approach that it satisfies ,or at least assuages the domestic  voices opposing GB’s complete annexation. Moreover, it is about redressing  of people’s grievances, by giving the region a level of ‘improved self governance package’. AJK’s agitation, can be flattened by assuring  them that won’t affect Kashmir’s long standing, unresolved, cause’.

Third issue is of constitutional hindrances, which again needs an inclusive political discourse, within the parliament. The supposedly powerful parliamentary committee on GB’s constitutional status, headed by foreign affairs’ Advisor Sartaj Aziz, is being expected to come up with some concrete outcomes, but what can be the outcomes or solutions? And how they are going to be brought forward? The are big questions, which people of GB are anxiously waiting answers for. With rumors going around about ‘exclusion of Baltistan Region’s   from the ‘ad-hoc provincial package’ resentments are building, and this does not augur well for the state and the society. If such a manuver sees the light of the day, then there are surely going to be protests and agitation. The federation needs to tread cautiously, and not alienate a people who have sacrificed a lot for the state, without being given their due rights.

Assuming an optimistic outcome, i.e. undivided GB (Baltisan is not excluded from ad-hoc package), there will still be a question mark on the “process” and legality of the future arrangements. The previous federal approaches have been to bypass legislature, i.e. parliament, and ruling GB through executive orders and LFOs. Executive order, in contrast to parliamentary acts is not evolved through political discourse, and thus is of lesser significance and, has mostly faced severe opposition in the region. The solution is to adopt a mature approach, to bring things with parliamentary consensus, through proper parliamentary acts, rather than backdoor executive orders.

Once the parliamentary substrate is available, constitutional amendment can be achieved to assimilate GB in the federation’s structure, like the J&K have been provisionally integrated by India. In the constitution, amendment in Article -1(2) pertaining to territories, Article -41 provincial assemblies electing president,  Article-51 Representation in National Assembly  , Article-59 Provincial assembles electing senate members and  Article-175 about supreme court’s jurisdiction ,can be done to operationalize GB as the provisional fifth province, till resolution of the Kashmir issue, without compromising the long-held stance.

The ‘executive orders’ in the past have been implemented via federally dominated councils, subordinated by puny GB representatives. This   supplementary approach, of bypassing parliament and remote controlling via councils, has caused misery for people of GB. With its political institutions and culture being held stagnant, and lacking political acumen, the ‘orders’ effectively serve only as lip service to the parties at the federal level.

Therefore, the merely-pro-federal outlooks of GB’s politicians have long ignored sentiments of people and their demands. Party loyalties, ‘always skewed’ to each party ‘incumbent in federal capital’, have stopped localized thesis and anti thesis  of political discourse, to synthesize indigenously developed political aura. This rudimentary political apparatus is then resultantly stuck, with in its ethnic and religion-sectarian maze, with its parochial outlook, which is easily hijack-able and distortable from governments in capital. This has paved way for inept conventional influentials,   to sail through electoral race, and nod to directions from federal government onwards. While most of urbanized middle class wonders for employments, leaving political   arena in hands of those, who do nothing more than marathon   of news paper’s catchy statements. Therefore, democratization of society and political evolution is not nurtured from bottom. Unless trend of practices in politics are   changed from root level, also allowing local political parties to exist(like other parts of country) in political spheres, there won’t be democratization. Politics,insititutions and practices ,are when more  demonizing then democratizing, essence of empowerment ,self rule and legitimacy won’t come, making good governance  a forgone dream.

Representation in Senate and National Assembly ‘through elected representatives’ can be a turning point to move things in a positive direction. If this is done through ‘selection of favorites’, it will encourage more cronyism and favoritism, demoralizing true democratic spirit. State can set a good precedent by bringing a positive change from top. The trickle down effects from top, can in turn bring about development, or at least a way for more mature political culture, evolving out of ethnic and religious dependencies.

The last issue that can remain with people of GB is, even if all of this happens and representation is given, about the status of their representatives. Will they be mere observers or full-fledged members? What good can the ‘observers’ probably do for GB? Not much!

CPEC can be a master stroke, with which federal government can conditionally annex GB, as its constitutional territory. Also it can unite the people of all other provinces, provided that all stake holders are taken on board, with assurances of non-partisan and equitable approach towards distribution of benefits and opportunities. These initiatives can be turning point in Pakistan’s history, or can also be the cause for ‘more moments to get lessons from’, depending on how prudently the leaders are able to think and act.

Awais Ali Khan is a social activist, and affiliated to City and Regional Planning Department ,University of Engineering and Technology Lahore.He can be reached at awais890@yahoo.com

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