By Syed Shams Uddin
RECENT print media reports speculate that the present government is mulling plans to introduce yet another package to be called the ‘Governance Reforms in Gilgit-Baltistan’ to replace the Order 2018 brought out by the previous government. The draft reportedly envisages renaming Gilgt-Baltistan Legislative Assembly as ‘legislative assembly’ while vesting the authority of remission or otherwise of sentences and reprieves, in the chairman council instead of the president of Pakistan. There is no mention of Sartaj Aziz Committee recommendations. On the whole, the proposed ‘governance reforms 2018’ is said to have mainly been centered on the Governance Order 2009 with the revival of most the clauses contemplated therein. Yet another feature of the draft under reference is the enhancement of the federal quota of jobs whilst redefining the citizenship. Earlier, a deadlock between the province and the federation over the ‘reforms package’ on the anvil was reported in the matter of introducing amendments in the Order 2018 in juxtaposition to that of 2009. It is said there however, prevailed a nonconsensual state initially over the denomination of the proposed new setup for Gilgit-Baltistan. The reports unveil in furtherance that there were also differences of opinion over the age limit of judges. Yet another reported point of disagreement is related to the representatives of the federation reluctant to get the prior assent of Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly(GBLA) on the new draft package prior to its enforcement – something insisted by the provincial government. However, a consensus is said to have emerged as to the continued exercise of powers to make laws relating minerals, tourism and forestry by the provincial assembly. Next meeting of the committee is to be held at Islamabad on Tuesday after the hearing of the constitutional case by the Supreme court obviously for a consensual development. K2 reported that a meeting of the committee was held at the ministry of law to contemplate at length, the viability or to put it, the efficacy of the proposed reforms package which lasted for three hours. . Chief minister, law minister and secretary law Gilgit-Baltistan participated.
During the course, the provincial government reportedly took a stance inter alia that the new Governance Reforms 208 be made subject to the assent of the provincial assembly which was not agreed to by the federation saying it would not be a due and legal way. Instead, the federation maintained that the package would be made enforceable with the approval of the federal cabinet alone. Another matter leading to the deadlock was regarding enhancement of the age limit of judges to 70 years with the provincial government objecting to it and saying it was 65 for judges throughout the country hence it should be the same and unchanged. However, the federation remained insistent on the proposed change. But nevertheless, despite these differences, there was consensus too, on some of the proposed amendments. The federation however, agreed to the demands of the provincial government not to effect changes in most of the powers vested in the province by the Order 2018. Consensus developed over vesting the Council the financial powers relating to the Supreme Appellate court, Banking court and National Accountability Bureau. The provincial representatives also came up with the demand that 80% of revenue should be given to the province while 20% should go to the federation. Regarding legislation, the provincial government demanded that for implementation of Sartaj Aziz committee. According to sources, the provincial representatives demanded incorporation of the recommendations of Sartaj Aziz Committee and the resolutions of the G-B Assembly for any reforms concerning G-B. The provincial government also demanded that the budget of the Council be met out of federal grant. However, there was consensus regarding giving the legislative powers concerning minerals, tourism and forestry to the province, sources said. However, there was consensus on some while differences on other points during the meeting. The next meeting will be held on 7th January after the hearing of the constitutional case by Supreme Court during which all the matters will be settled. The sources say that the representatives of the federation apprised in the meeting that when it comes to the making Gilgit-Baltistan a constitutional province, it will be considered along with that of South Punjab province through constitutional amendments. The chief minister Gilgit-Baltistan said the provincial government should be taken on board by the federation. The sources hinted at the federation’s seeking some time yet again for the settlement of all the points.
A prolific writer from Gilgit-Baltistan in his recent ‘piece’ on the ‘Movement for Accession – ‘A Few Submissions’ aptly notes that the constitution of committee after committee altogether yielding intangible results but notwithstanding this process, the people of G-B never took to the streets to protest because, to him, they were convinced not the very least that their case would not get tinkered with. As far as constitutional issue is concerned, he pointed out that during the preceding five years, the committees formed periodically made an indepth study of the historical perspectives and constitutional issues associated with the matter and formulated comprehensive reports and submitted to the federal government. The committee constituted by the previous government however, kept in secrecy what is called Sartaj Azizi Committee report as long as the PML(N) remained in power. The previous government then, instead of going ahead with the recommendation of the said report for making Gilgit-Baltistan provisional province, brought out Order 2018 whereby the G-B was divested of certain administrative powers given by Gilgit-Baltistan Governance (Empowerment ) Order 2009. The writer says in furtherance that the Governance Order 2009 had barely given relief to this region insofar as the autocratic powers earlier exercised by the ministry of Kashmir Affairs prior to the Governance Order under reference, he notes. It is to be seen that a constant doctoring of the region’s history and paltering with facts of the case have so far has precipitated things and thus led to the limbo the region is in for the last 70 years. But nonetheless, It was hoped by the people this time that the core problem relating to Gilgit-Baltistan id est the constitutional limbo, would be resolved. The taking up of the constitutional petition by the honourable Supreme Court of Pakistan gave great hopes that pronouncement of a decision premised on the historical background associated with the region would be made as the ancient as well medieval history of the area excluding however, hardly a century-old period of forcibly occupation or colonization of the territory during the second half of 19th century and its annexation with the J&K State, making the area a distinct entity to be treated as such for all intents and purposes, would clear all the decks and paved the way for its declaring Gilgit-Baltistan atleast as a provincial province of Pakistan. It is also noteworthy that the last speck of about one hundred years colonization of Gilgit-Baltistan by the Dogras had gone with the abolition of the State Subject Rules (SSR) in 1974 when the then chief executive of Pakistan did away with it and clearly paved the way for an unhindered provincial status of the region. It is to be recalled that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan were earlier being issued ‘state subject class-I certificates’ instead of the present domicile certificates under Pakistan Citizenship Act. If the Pakistan Citizenship Act is withdrawn at this point in time as the reports suggest, the people of the area would return to pre-1974 state while the ground realities have now been changed altogether. Construably, the constitutional limbo that persists and the consequent political vacuum in truly mainstreaming G-B for the past 70 years at a stretch stem primarily from lack of much-needed attention and an abiding indifference all along in the past, that led to insignificant breakthroughs in this matter so vital to both the people of G-B and Pakistan at large. This primarily been the cause of simmering discontent in Gilgit-Baltistan with the difficulties encountered in having upgraded the region in the well-deserved constitutional parlance rather than keep ruling it under anachronistic and strange dispensations that keep resulting into persistent problems of governance in a democratic polity. All this calls for doing away with interim or ad hoc arrangements by way of orders or packages. Instead, the dispensation this time needs to be crafted carefully and quite punctiliously in keeping with the correct historical perspective associated with Gilgit-Baltistan for granting the region provisional provincial status as it would not in anyway, be detrimental or harmful to the Kashmir imbroglio or the Kashmir cause.
The writer is a Gilgit-based freelance contributor, blogger. He tweets@SayyidShams.