By Syed Shamsuddin
QUITE INTERESTINGLY, a widely circulated regional daily editorially reported the other day, as to a resolution having been tabled in Azad Jammu & Kashmir Assembly on the behest of prime minister Raja Farooq Haider calling for a setup for Gilgit-Baltitan akin to and on the pattern of Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK). It is indeed a new development insofar as Kashmiri leadership contemplative of such a demand concerning Gilgit-Baltistan for an administrative, judicial and parliamentary dispensation for the region is concerned. This is primarily in seeing that the Kashmiri leadership all along in the past, was viewed opposing any move by the Pakistan government aimed at governance reforms in Gilgit-Baltistan to assuage the simmering disillusionment and growing discontent among the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. However, the resolution under in question is referred to as vocally saying that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan literally shorn of their rights to which they are entitled to by birth be given to them.
The editorial refers in furtherance, to the consecutive efforts made by the central government every time to ‘empower’ the people of the region but no dispensation of the sort fully addressed the situation till today. Nevertheless, there is a mention of the present government to be making serious efforts to resolve this long festering issue.
It is worth mentioning that in the resolution tabled in the AJK assembly with a graphic reference to the prime minister Raja Farooq Haider that he himself and on behalf of his PML-N party chose to ensure the people of Gilgit-Baltistan the fullest cooperation in safeguarding their legitimate rights. He is also referred to have gone to the extent of extending all assurances not only on behalf of his government but all the political parties in AJK whether within or outside the house, in the fore-going context and support the people of Gilgit-Baltistan in their just struggle. As the report says, he was vocal in admitting that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan had rendered more sacrifices than those of AJK. No political party according to him, was opposed to any proposal of giving rights to the people of Gilgit-Baltitan. Prime minister AJK acknowledged that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan valiantly liberated the territory without any outside assistance. However, he said Gilgit-Baltistan remaind a historical part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir State while reiterating a governance setup at par with AJK.
This instantly elicited views of the Speaker Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) as reported by print media that an AJK-like setup could be tantamount to consigning Gilgit-Baltistan to limbo as a ‘disputed territory’ while the people of the region want to be constitutional part of Pakistan outright saying the issue of ‘state subject rules’ is a different thing falling within the ambit of the legislative assembly. In similar vein, a senior leader of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf Fatahullah flanked by another leader Maj ® Muhammad Amin, is reported to have reiterated that his party’s demand is constitutional status for Gilgit-Baltistan whilst similar views of Syed Jafar Shah – another senior leader of PTI – were reported the other day. Unequivocal views of the opposition leader Capt ® Shafi Khan demanding constitutional status for the region are already on record. It is noteworthy that Gilgit-Baltistan’s legislative assembly passed resolutions in the same context.
However, many skeptics gloomily prognosticate that the resolution of the sort by AJK assembly at this point in time seeking such a set-up could but be aimed at merely having the matter of constitutional provincial status for Gilgit-Baltistan shelved and put to the backburner saying the AJK leadership every time, gratuitously trammeled every move in the past on the part of central government when it came to improve upon the governance in Gilgit-Baltistan. With this line of thinking, the Kashmiri leadership is oft-referred to as having altogether demonstrably bypassed Gilgit-Baltistan as can be witnessed the Karachi Agreement while they acquiescing in the abolition of the State Subject Rules in Gilgit-Baltistan in 1974 followed by promulgation of martial law and declaring Gilgit-Baltistan as zone E alongside other allied measures which unambiguously paved the way for making the region constitutional part of Pakistan. What the AJK leadership is specifically referred to is the flurry of activity on their part to impede any breakthroughs in matters of improved governance in the region in the past.
A Concise Anatomical View of History:
NESTLED amidst the world’s three gigantic mountain ranges – the Himalayas, the Hindukush and the Karakorams – Gilgit-Baltistan has occupied an abiding geostrategic significance all along history obviously for this region’s abutting simultaneously the People’s Republic of China, Afghanistan, India whilst the Central Asian Republics (CARs) are situated merely at stone’s throw away. As is to be seen, this strategic importance the region attaches has enhanced unimaginably with the passage of time to such an enormous extent that it has become the cynosure during this century which obviously calls for according the region its locus in keeping with the correct and unquestionable historical perspective. The core issue associated with it is the constitutional limbo the area is in for the last seven decades at a stretch which fundamentally, stemmed from a sheer misconceptions as to the correct historical background of this region.
Now when a seven-judge bench of Pakistan’s Supreme Court has reportedly ‘reserved’ its judgment in the case associated with Gilgit-Baltistan’s constitutional status, it has generated great optimism among the regional people this time believing sanguinely and pinning all their hopes on the apex court that its pronouncement will be all-encompassing and would culminate in a verdict attuned to and in keeping with the area’s historical perspective. Admittedly, it remains a fact that successive governments all along in the past, adopted a lackadaisical approach to this issue and backburnered it disregarding the wishes and aspirations of these people. Be it as it may, the honourable apex court this time is expected to go by the historical evidence in the matter of determination of the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan.
It is worth mentioning that earlier, in constitutional petition titled Habib Wahabul Khairi and others filed in the Supreme Court of Pakistan seeking determination of constitutional status of this region which culminated in the apex court’s landmark verdict dated 28-05-1999 holding inter alia, that the people of the area were citizens of Pakistan for all intents and purposes. It was contended before the apex court that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan had no fundamental rights and were being governed by a bureaucrat sitting in Islamabad. Dawn of May 29, 1999 highlighted the Supreme Court verdict which is precisely referred to here under: The Hon’ble court held that the people of the Northern Areas were citizens of Pakistan and the federal government must ensure within six months that the people were given fundamental rights through independent judiciary and elected government. The SC bench comprised Chief Justice Ajmal Mian, Justice Muhammad Bashir Jehangiri, Justice Mamoon Kazi, Justice Chaudhry Muhammad Arif, and Justice Munir A. Sheikhs. The court held that the people of the Northern Areas were entitled to participate in the governance of their area and to have and independent judiciary to enforce, inter alia, the Fundamental Rights. The court held that the Northern Areas Council could not be equated with an elected government of a province. “The council is entrusted with the functions of a local government. In this view of the matter, it could not be concluded that the people of Northern Areas have been allowed to exercise their right to govern through their chosen representatives, inter alia, in terms of Article 2A of the Constitution.” As regards the fundamental right to have access to justice through an independent judiciary, the court observed the Northern Areas had a chief court, which could be equated with a High Court provided it was manned by the persons of the stature who was fit to be elevated as judge to any High Court in Pakistan. The court held that the jurisdiction of the chief court of Northern Areas was to be enlarged as to include jurisdiction to entertain constitutional petitions, inter alia, to enforce the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution and provide a right of appeal against the judgment of the chief court. The court directed the federal government to initiate appropriate administrative/legislative measures within a period of six months from May 28 to make necessary amendments in the constitution/relevant laws, orders and notifications to ensure that the people of Northern Areas enjoyed their fundamental rights; were governed through their chosen representatives and have access to justice through an independent judiciary.
The writer is a Gilgit-based freelance contributor, blogger. He tweets @SayyidShams