GILGIT: A seminar, attended by noted lawyers and members of the legal fraternity in Giglit-Baltistan was held in Gilgit Bar Association’s Conference room. The seminar was aimed at sharing the findings of a research study exploring the role of customary laws around natural resource governance of the area.
Mr. Sultan Abbas, the author of the research work opened the discussion by exhorting the participants to ask critical questions and reflect on
the challenges of a multiplicity of forces directly impacting lives and livelihoods of the inhabitants of GB in the future. These forces range from the impact of climate change to imminent mega investments and popular demands for setting up special industrial zones in collaboration with international investors.
He mentioned that, “while every investment is welcome yet the people should be made aware of the social, economic and cultural costs of enhanced trade and investment in the area”. He said that customary laws have served traditional communities well allowing for sustainable utilization of natural resources and this tradition can be tapped into modern times as well to advance the empowerment of local communities.
Mr. Ashfaque Ahmed and Javed Advocate both talked about the inevitable globalization of the economy and its attendant threats and opportunities.
The seminar was addressed by Imran Hussein, Muhammad Essa and Saleem Khan among others.
Muhammad Essa, a senior advocate of GB’s Supreme Court Bar said that big investors and capitalists can easily take over local inhabitants and their resources. He mentioned that “one single capitalist can easily buy the entire Diamer/Astore and can easily dominate Hunza/Nagar. We should not allow this. We should protect our land resources. Why are the Arabs so upset in Palestine? We have to learn from global case studies. The land is the most precious resource. Even, according to Sharia law, the catchment area belongs to the people. Within the confines of a village all the natural resources belong to the indigenous people. The land is like a mother which nourishes”.
Mr. Essa talked about the nexus of human rights with land and natural resources in reasonable detail. Here he mentioned that “fundamental rights cannot be compromised. Territory can be disputed yet fundamental human rights are inviolable and hence we should pursue this task piously”. Mr. Essa called for blending customary laws with statutory laws and he endorsed the conclusions reached in the research report. He encouraged the participants and told them to “protect your land, protect your identity, protect your culture and be prepared for the forthcoming challenges.
The seminar ended with a keynote speech by Mr. Asad Bilal, former Attorney General Gilgit-Baltistan and President High Court Bar
Association. He began by talking about China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which, he said, is aimed at facilitating China’s access to the hot waters. The 46-billion-dollar investment is divided into three different sectors, roads, and infrastructure, industrial zones, hydropower/energy programs. He lamented that nothing appears to be on offer in CPEC for Gilgit-Baltistan despite this region being the main door to the corridor itself. He said that it is a standard global practice that “before any mega investment is made the government should undertake Initial Environmental Examination or IEE where adverse impacts and likely impacts on biodiversity are evaluated and suggestions are provided to ameliorate the situation. Initial Environmental Assessment (IEA) is another tool that evaluates biodiversity and mitigation measures in relation to impact.” Local institutions diminished with the passage of time. Along with the diminishing of traditional institutions the plight of natural resources has also deteriorated. He said that “the imposition of Forest Act 1927 and also Forest Act 1975 adversely impacted natural resources of Giglit-Baltistan which now must be completely rehabilitated, incorporating many of the most successful elements of customary laws which could ensure sustainable development.”