The Prime Minister’s approval of provisional provincial status for GB and subsequent postponement in today’s Cabinet meeting has bidden a new debate in Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK amid careful, watchful and thoughtful considerations by political and constitutional analysists. There is a dire need to investigate the sketches and illustrations of the opus named ‘Provisional Provincial Status’.
Since the liberation of Gilgit-Baltistan in 1948 and its de-facto accession with Pakistan, status of Gilgit-Baltistan remained in limbo without any serious deliberations at any competent legislative forum of Pakistan till Prime Minister ZA Bhutto formed Northern Areas Committee in April 1972. The Committee discussed different possibilities including its merger with Pakistan, however, the Committee presented its recommendations that GB should retain its separate entity and it should not be merged with Punjab, NWFP or AJK. In the special meeting of the Cabinet held on October 13, 1973, ZA Bhutto observed that the objective of integration should be pursued without endangering Pakistan’s position in UN as per UNCIP Resolutions while considering the frustration and sense of alienation by the people of GB who had no eco-political justice in the past viz-a-viz it was acknowledged that the people of GB are heterogeneous character and even on geographical grounds they cannot be merged with AJK. While considering the limited resources and expenditure to run a provincial setup it was decided that GB should be converted into an autonomous region for 10 years and after that it can be given a provincial status. However, after a lapse of 20 years, Northern Areas Council Legal Framework Order 1994 was introduced by Benezir Bhutto’s government supplemented with Northern Areas Rules of Business 1994 which was an administrative and development reforms package. The LFO 1994 was amended by President Musharraf whereby the status of Northern Areas Council was upgraded to Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC) in 1999 with some increase in the elected seats of the council.
In its landmark judgement in 1999, Supreme Court of Pakistan gave a breakthrough to the constitutional status of GB in response to Al-Jehad Trust’s Constitutional Petition versus Federation of Pakistan. It directed the federation to enforce the fundamental rights under the Constitution of Pakistan, to declare the constitutional status of GB, to declare the people of GB as full citizens of Pakistan with the right to fully participate in the affairs of federation and to grant a provincial status. However, Supreme Court of Pakistan left it on the shoulders of the government and the parliament to prescribe the form of government for the region. In obligation to Supreme Court’s directives a package of reforms partially fulfilling the requirements were introduced by PPP government in 2009 titled GB Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009. Even though it did not meet the aspirations of the inhabitants of the regions, this order was widely hailed as it gave the region its identity as Gilgit-Baltistan, having an elected legislative assembly called GBLA consist of 24 elected 6 women and 3 technocrat seats with its own governor and Chief Minister with empowerment to legislate on 61 subjects and establishment of 16 member GB Council having Prime Minister of Pakistan its Chairman. It also brought some judicial reforms in the area with the establishment of Supreme Appellate Court. In nutshell, the Order 2009 converted the status of the people from ‘ambiguous’ to ‘almost Pakistani’.
On October 29, 2015, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif approved the constitution of a “Committee on Constitutional and Administrative Reforms in GB” with Mr. Sartaj Aziz for former advisor to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs as its Convener along with 8 members including Mr. Ashtar Ali Ausaf (Special Assistant to PM on Law), Mr. Zaheer Ahmed (Special Assistant to PM), Mr. Hafiz Hafeez-ur-Rehman (CM GB), Mr. Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry (Secretary MOFA), Mr. Abid Saeed (Former Secretary KA&GB), Mr. Tahir Hussain (CS-GB), Major General Sahir Shamshad Mirza (Representative of MoD) and Dr. Muhammad Faisal (former DG MOFA). This committee presented its detailed recommendations after thoroughly examining the historical record including Treaty of Amritsar 1846, Treaty of Lahore 1846, Lease of Gilgit Wizarat 1935, Liberation and accession of Gilgit-Baltistan, and resolutions adopted by GBLA in 2012, 2014 and 2015. The reports of the concerned quarters were also considered that foreign hostile elements may find a niche for their activities in the wake of CPEC by exploiting the sense of deprivation and alienation in GB if the grant of constitutional status is further delayed. A special consideration was also given to GBLA Resolution dated August 17, 2015 whereby it was demanded that GB be included in Pakistan as a constitutional province by ensuring its representation in National Assembly and the Senate to fulfil the long-standing demands of the local populace.
The Committee aka Sartaj Aziz Committee submitted its report to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif duly signed by all members including Chief Minister GB on March 10, 2017 with its recommendations; (a) to give GB provisionally the special status of a province pending the settlement of J&K dispute; (b) to give GB representation in National Assembly and Senate through constitutional amendments in Article 51 and 57 which deals with National Assembly and Right to Speak in National Assembly; (c) GB be entitled to three special seats (one for each division i.e. Baltistan, Diamer and Gilgit) with One women seat to be elected by GBLA through an order passed by President under Article 258; (d) three special seats can be created for GB in Senate; (e) all subjects to legislate other than those enumerated in Article 142 and its Fourth Schedule to be given to GB Assembly and Council with corresponding executive powers; (f) GB be given representation in all constitutional bodies like NEC, NFC, and IRSA by extending special invitation similar to those extended to AJK and; (g) a robust local government system for GB.
It was a golden chance for PML(N) for having its government in GB and centre to win the hearts and minds of the people of GB by claiming to introduce better reforms for the people of GB. But this opportunity was missed by Chief Minister Hafiz Hafiz-ur-Rehman who defended Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 which was in no case a reflection of recommendations proposed by Sartaj Aziz Committee in which he was signatory. By opposing GB Order 2018 and demanding to public the Sartaj Aziz Committee Report, he could have gained a wider popularity because in politics it is better to be impetus than cautious.
Now, the opportunity missed by PML(N) has knocked the doors of PTI government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan. If he sustains the opposition of Kashmiri lobby and not takes a U-turn again, his party will have a credit. Prospectively it is anticipated that the celebrations in GB for the much-awaited good news will be short lived and resultantly a blatant U-Turn will be defended syntactically. In the past, giving constitutional status to GB was linked with formally accepting the division of Kashmir and no party was in the position to own that blame. PM Imran Khan has a unique opportunity as his government is introducing a reforms package on the directives of the Supreme Court of Pakistan. If this time again the people or GB are solaced with a presidential order rather than a constitutional provision, it will give an unprecedented sense of alienation and resentment. The upcoming reforms should be based on a constitutional provision reflecting the recommendations of Sartaj Aziz Committee and Supreme Court’s 1999 judgement with at least 10 seats in the National Assembly one for each district of Gilgit-Baltistan rather than four as proposed. Because the people of GB are now mentally prepared to witness the dawn that will give a full stop to their sense of alienation and deprivation. People of GB are not ready to accept anything less than constitutional status and any effort to present a modified version of GB Order 2018 will entomb the politics of PTI in Gilgit-Baltistan.
The writer is Assistant Professor in the IR Department of Karakoram International University Gilgit.