Gilgit-Baltistan’s Kashmir Chapter (II)


By Syed Shamsuddin

THE COURT ruled: “It is, therefore patent that the people of Northern Areas have been denied their fundamental right to have access to justice through an independent judiciary as envisaged by the Constitution and enunciated by this court inter alia in the case of Mehram Ali.” While giving direction for bringing changes in the status of Northern Areas, the court kept in mind that it was not competent to direct the legislature but to the federal government only. The court noted that the geographical location of the Northern Areas was very sensitive because it was bordering India, China, Tibet and USSR. The court stated it could not decide what type of government should be provided to ensure the compliance with the mandate of the Constitution. The court also held that it had no jurisdiction to direct the legislature for giving representation to the Northern Areas in the Parliament. “Any such direction at this stage might not in the interest of the country because of the fact that a plebiscite under the auspices of the United Nations is to be held.” The above questions are to be decided by the parliament and Executive. This court at most can direct that the proper administration and legislative step should be taken to ensure that the people of Northern Areas enjoy their fundamental rights under the Constitution. The court ruled: “It is, therefore patent that the people of Northern Areas have been denied their fundamental right to have access to justice through an independent judiciary as envisaged by the constitution and enunciated by this Court inter alia in the case of Mehram Ali.” Rejecting the AG view that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction in the Northern Areas, the court held that since the federal government was situated in the territory it had the jurisdiction. The AG had contended before the court that Northern Areas were de facto in the control of Pakistan. “In our view, since the federal government is situated within territory over which this Court admittedly has jurisdiction, the above constitutional petitions are maintainable.” The court held that the question whether the people of NA have the right to invoke fundamental rights contained in chapter 1 of Part II of the Constitution and hence the court had competently entertained the above constitutional petition under Article 184(3). The court held that most of the Pakistani statutes had been made applicable by the government of Pakistan to the Northern Areas through various notifications. It made a specific reference to the Citizenship Act which was enforced in the Northern Areas in 1973. “In the above background, it is not understandable on what basis the people of Northern Areas can be denied the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Constitution.”

It becomes very well construable that it was the executive to make the arrangements to settle the issue once and for all in deference to the honourable court’s order but  nevertheless, there was a noticeable bureaucratic dithering the government coming up at long last with the Governance Order 2009 that too, almost a decade later whereby the constitutional dispensation was altogether skipped  as a result of which the Gilgit-Baltistan Bar Council was constrained to file the present constitutional petition by Gilgit-Baltistan Bar Council before the apex court. As the case heard by the larger bench of the honourable apex court headed by chief justice of Pakistan Justice Saqib Nisar reportedly reserved the judgment  the other day, only the pronouncement of decision is awaited. Going by the remarks of some of the honourable judges of the bench however, a few reporters as per print media reports are apprehensive that the prospective verdict to them, will not be all-encompassing insofar as any constitutional dispensation is concerned and would not culminate in any meaningful reforms yet again a la the past experience. Though may be quite untenable, journalists and activists from Gilgit-Baltistan who attended the consecutive hearings too are expressive of similar feelings referring to the views of some judges of the bench.

Still some are hoping against hope that the draft Gilgit-Baltistan Governance Reforms 2018 on the anvil promising empowerment and good governance or to put it the mutatis mutandis application of the Order 2018 introduced by the PML-N government previously, unlikely address the core issue for reasons of a constitutional amendment it would involve. As emanating from various social media platforms and becoming ascertainable from portrayal of views in gatherings, the growing number of educated youth from Gilgit-Baltistan are exhibitive of their great disenchantment with the mainstream political parties of the country for the latter’s continued apathy –towards Gilgit-Baltistan saying the lackadaisical approach and nonchalance in having the core issue of the region led to its eventual procrastination. To them, these parties always did absolutely nothing tangible save doing a mere lip-service, insofar as safeguarding Gilgit-Baltistan’s rights is concerned. Dilating upon this, it is said that the regional people were kept literally at bay in the matter of the status quo thereby depriving them of their fundamental constitutional rights and control over their own resources – something calling for the launching of an indigenous political party aimed at a just struggle for these rights instead of  what they call ‘being lured in by the mere ‘lip-service’ of such so-called national mainstream parties.’

A cursory look at the history of the region will bring it to the fore that upto the middle of the nineteenth century, the area was divided into various chieftainships – well nigh a dozen tiny States. After the notorious “Treaty of Amritsar” when the British sold Kashmir to Gulab Singh, Dogra, the Dogras started making incursions in the area. By the end of the nineteenth century, after many destructions, defeats and set-backs, the Dogras were able to conquer the major portion of the area. The two ‘mirdoms’ of Hunza and Nagar, however, were free up to the end of the nineteenth century. At that point in time, the British thought it imperative to bring the whole area under their control in view of the increasing threat from the Russians in the North. The combined forces of the Dogras and British invaded Nagar, Hunza made peace and thus the whole area came under their control.

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