Since the annexation with Pakistan after getting independence from Dogra Raj in 1947, people of Gilgit-Baltistan are living in a constitutional limbo in terms of their exclusion from Article 1(2) of the Constitution. There is no dearth of separatist movements in the world where indigenous communities like Kashmiris, Kurds, Catalans and others are seeking autonomy or passing through bloody struggles of separation. People of Gilgit-Baltistan are in a unique love affair with Pakistan for last seven decades struggling for their constitutional status in terms of their annexation with the federation. Instead, the federation has continuously introduced different administrative reforms packages from time to time by establishment of Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas (KANA) in 1950, appointment of Resident Officer in 1952, establishment of Northern Areas Advisory Council in 1970, administrative and judicial reforms package of 1974, declaration of Martial Law Zone-E in 1985, Reforms Package of 1994, delegation of legislative powers in 1999, Judicial reforms package 2005, Northern Areas Governance Order 2007 and lastly Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order 2009.
The Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order 2009 does not fill the constitutional vacuum and this improved legislative setup is a mockery with Empowerment and Self-Governance. Enclosed in parenthesis, the etymology empowerment and self-governance is associated in contexts where there is an end of an absolute government, a monarchy or a colonial rule based on a struggle of ethnic groups perceiving themselves as being unrepresented in a national government as well as measures designed to increase the degree of autonomy in order to represent their interests in a responsible way with permission to act for some specific goals and purposes.
An examination of Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order 2009 will pathologically identify the causes that have given rise to ongoing anti-tax and pro-constitutional rights movements in the region. It has established two organs namely Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) and Gilgit-Baltistan Council. The Legislative Assembly consist of thirty-three members of whom twenty-four members are elected directly on the basis of adult franchise; six women members are elected on the pattern as in case of reserved seat in Pakistan, and three technocrats and other professional members who are elected on the pattern as in case of reserved seat in Pakistan. Under Article 44 of the Governance Order, the members of Legislative Assembly are restricted to discuss in the Assembly or the Council or the joint sitting with respect to matters relating to Foreign Affairs, Defence, Internal Security and Fiscal Plans of Government of Pakistan and the conduct of the any Judge of the Gilgit-Baltistan Supreme Appellate Court or the Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Court in the discharge of his duties. They are empowered to legislate on 61 subjects under the provisions of its legislative list provided in Schedule three. Whereas Gilgit-Baltistan Council is the most powerful organ consisting of Prime Minister as its Chairman, Governor of GB as its vice chairman, Minister of Kashmir and GB Affairs as its ex-officio member and Minister incharge of the Councils, Chief Minister GB, six members nominated by the Prime Minister of Pakistan from time to time from amongst Federal Ministers and members of Parliament, and six members to be elected by the Assembly in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of a single transferable vote.
GB Council is more powerful in terms of its legislative powers over minerals, water and power, tourism, forests, duties of customs and excise, and power to impose taxes on means of production, corporations, agriculture, sale and purchase of goods, capital value of assets and terminal taxes on carriages and passengers. More interestingly, the legislative powers are granted to Council to legislate on Railways despite the fact that there is no railway in the entire region whereas no legislative power is given to operate road transportations like buses. Water and Power, Minerals, Tourism and Forest are the subjects of the Council but current GB Government has ministers comprised of Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly members to run the affairs of subject enlisted under Council. Moreover, under fifth schedule there is a services distribution formula between Government of Pakistan and Government of Gilgit-Baltistan under which the share of Gilgit-Baltistan in APUG/DMG/APS is 25% for BS-17, 40% for BS-18, 50% for BS-19, 60% for BS-20 and 65% for BS-21 whereas there is no provision for the officers of GB to serve in other provinces or federal government under this vacancy sharing formula. More than 80% of district administration is comprised of officers from other provinces.
The Governance Order is further supported by Gilgit-Baltistan Rules of Business 2009, a subordinate legislation required for the implementation of the order which has further curtailed the powers of GB government making a mockery of empowerment and self-government. Under these rules, the business of the departments is being disposed by or under the authority of Secretaries as official head of the departments whereas ministers are only authorised for framing of their policy under the guidelines provided by secretaries. In cases where ministers deviate from the rules and procedures, secretaries invite the attention of the minister regarding the rules and if the ministers persist, secretaries are empowered to submit the case to the Chief Minister for his information along with a copy to the Governor. Whereas, in other provinces of Pakistan under such circumstances, ministers get orders from the Chief Ministers directly and orders for notification. These rules as well as Governance Order provides no details of Gilgit-Baltistan Election Commission who is being appointed by the Chairman of the Council on the advice of Governor.
With a higher literacy rate among the youth, an aware civil society due to work done by NGOs, constitutional limbo affiliated with Kashmir imbroglio, taxes without representation and no major project in CPEC has further widened the cleavages of deprivations and disparities. Therefore, it is need of the hour to redress the governance structure by incorporating Gilgit-Baltistan into federation by amending Article 1(2) of the CoP. If this hurts Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir issue, “temporary constitutional provisions” are most suited in line with Article 370 of Indian Constitution. In Zarb-e-Kaleem, Allama Muhammad Iqbal (ra) says: Ma’loom nahein, Hay ye khushamad ki haqeeqat, Keh day koi Ulloo ko agar raat ka shehbaz (Would it be more vicarious or polite – I wonder, to call an owl ‘the falcon of the night?’).
The writer is Assistant Professor in Karakoram International University Gilgit and former Secretary Gilgit-Baltistan Local Council Board. Email. firstname.lastname@example.org