SC orders federation to file statement on legal status of Gilgit-Baltistan

ISLAMABAD – The apex court on Wednesday ordered the federation to file statement on key questions on the legal status of Gilgit-Baltistan.

A two-judge bench headed by Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, hearing six petitions on the legal status of G-B, appointed two top jurists namely Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan and Khawaja Muhammad Haris as amicus curiae (friend of the court).

Justice Saqib observed that the legal issues have been raised in the petitions that needed patience hearing, adding firstly, issues will be framed and then larger bench could be constituted for adjudication.

He said first question before the court is whether the Chief Judge of Supreme Appellate Court (SAC) of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) could direct Shaheen Air International to start flights in the area and later, issued non-bailable warrants to managing director regarding non-compliance of its order.
“The court will decide whether the chief judge has authority to pass this order and whether the Supreme Court could expand its jurisdiction to G-B’s territory.
However, the bench has restrained the Sindh and Islamabad police for taking any action against managing director of Shaheen Air International in view of the SAC Gilgit-Baltistan (GB)’s order.

During the hearing, Justice Saqib asked Attorney General for Pakistan Ashtar Ausaf Ali whether the SAC G-B could pass order to any department, which is situated in the territory of Pakistan.
Upon this, the AGP sought time for getting instruction from the concerned authorities.

Khawaja Haris argued that it is a significant matter therefore the apex court’s judgment in this regard will have far reaching impacts at national and international levels.
Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsen stated it is not only significant but also a complicated issue because G-B is not the part of Pakistan under Article 1 of the constitution.

He further contended that the legal status of Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order 2009 is also questionable because it had been issued through Presidential Order.
However, he said that Article 184 of Constitution is applicable in the G-B; therefore, the top court can pass any direct order.

Meanwhile, Rai Mohammad Nawaz Kharral, counsel for Supreme Appellate Court Bar Association Gilgit, appearing before the bench has requested to declare Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO) No.
786 (1) of Sept 9, 2009, Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order 2009, which was amended lately on Feb 2015 empowering minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas (KANA) Muhammad Birjees Tahir to act as the governor Gilgit-Baltistan as illegal, unlawful and contrary to the May 1999 Supreme Court judgment in the Aljihad Trust case.

Recalling the 1999 verdict which had held the two million people of the Northern Areas as the citizens of Pakistan, he highlighted that the judgment had ordered the federal government to make proper administrative and legislative measures ensuring the people of Northern Areas to enjoy their rights as guarantees in the 1973 Constitution.

In 1999, the apex court had also given a time frame requiring the government to initiate appropriate administrative and legislative measures within six months by making necessary amendments in the constitution/relevant statutes/orders/rules/notification.

 Such amendments should aim at ensuring the citizen of the Northern Areas the right to be governed through their chosen representative and to have access to justice through independent judiciary.

Now the petition regretted that the federal government has failed to comply with the 1999 judgment though after a period of over a decade.

The bench on Wednesday sought concise statement from the federal government on this plea.
Likewise, the court has also rejected the registrar office’s objections on the petitions, wherein the procedure regarding the appointments of superior courts judges of G-B have been challenged.

It also asked the federal government to submit reply over the petition. The hearing of case is adjourned for indefinite period.

Published in The Nation newspaper on 20-Oct-2016

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