Sat. Sep 25th, 2021

Can we not choose our own future?

Why are we always angry? Rejecting an order or a court decision seems to be only way of protests from Gilgit Baltistan (GB)!  Can we, the GBians, not choose our own future!

The Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCOP) has announced its historic judgment about Gilgit Baltistan (GB) and its future constitutional accession to Pakistan and annexed an order termed as “Gilgit Baltistan Governance Reforms 2019”. The judgment was announced in an open court on 17 January 2019 by a 7-member bench. The decision was primarily focused on very important historical and constitutional issues involving the status, authority and powers of GB, including the judiciary and the rights available to its people.

Many, including the political and religious leadership, and civil society members, have said many things about this judgment. One may agree or disagree with the views expressed fully or partly but none can deny the fact that these voices were heard in every circle and created a bit of tension and unrest in various circles of GB, and the rest of Pakistan. This was an outcome that shows anger, coupled with helplessness, and it appears to be the only way to explain the emotions of people from GB.

Denying the locals their due right of having a voice in policy-making at the state level has made the populace angry, hostile and critical of the status, like never seen before. Negative emotions are also being fueled by some elements with hidden agendas that they themselves don’t understand, most of the time.

GB Bar Council (GBBC) was the forefront runner leading this case to the SCOP and it is mentioned that the GB govt. was providing advice to the GB Bar Council (GBBC). These suggestions were not considered as part of the petition proceedings as confirmed by recent press conference by the Chief Minister GB and further elaborated by the Provincial Law Minister GB.

There is no use to cry over spilt milk; the judgment is out and people and leadership need to consolidate their energies to be able to act in the larger interest of GB by formulating an integrated future course of action acceptable to everyone.

There are various aspects stemming out of the SC’s decision and GB Reforms Order 2019 that may be questioned as ostensibly affecting the authority of the GB’s locally elected government in various areas including, but not limited to, legislative powers of the elected GB Assembly; apparently certain legislative powers conferred upon the local elected assembly were withdrawn and given to the Federal Government though GB Council which is controlled by Federal Government. Similar is the case with appointment of the judicial representations through Judicial Council, represented by the bureaucracy. Definition of the citizenship, increasing the upper-age limit of judges etc. are also cases in point.

These matters are of great importance to the political leadership of GB. Without any doubt, these are the areas that require considerable amount of input from local people and should be addressed according to the spirit of devolving powers to the local elected government.

However, my concern does not rest and deal with the aforementioned issues.

My focus is to get the answer to two very basic questions:

Q1 – Is GB a disputed territory?

Q2 – Does conferring constitutional rights to GB negatively affect the Kashmir cause?

I am hearing through social media, print media and some other sources that people, including some political and religious leaders, have understood the answers to both the questions as a big “YES”. Therefore, they are demanding that GB should be considered a ‘disputed territory’ and hence should enjoy an independent status or enjoy the local authority of some form similar to some form of suzerainty.  We need to find the answers to these questions and the answers should be in the SCOP judgment that was rendered on 17th January 2019. Otherwise, the judgment would not serve its very purpose.

My own interpretation, of the SCOP’s judgment and extracts therein, might not be that valuable. Therefore, I have taken some parts of the judgement itself, to make the answers to these questions very much relevant and understandable.

SCOP’s judgment on page 9 of the judgment itself raised the question, as quoted, “Would granting fundamental rights and a status, role and recognition to the people of GB within the constitutional scheme of Pakistan prejudice Pakistan’s cause for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute by such appropriate means as may be acceptable to Pakistan (which could, for example, be a United Nations sanctioned and supervised plebiscite)?”

SCOP has acknowledged the fact that the fate of Kashmir is linked to independent and fair plebiscite in accordance with the UNCIP resolution.

In order to understand these questions, we need to understand the historical background of the Kashmir issue and its linkage to the GB and I want these factual background from the SCOP’s judgment rendered on 17th January 2019. Kashmir dispute arose due to coerced or contrived accession of Kashmir to India by the Hindu ruler of a majority Muslim state which was neither in accordance with the wishes of the people of Kashmir nor in accordance with the principals of divisions laid down by the British government. The issue was inevitable to the arisen due to the resistance of the people of Kashmir.

UN Security Council passed resolutions on 17th and 20th January, 1948 establishing the UN Commission for India and Pakistan (UNCIP). The UNCIP was directed to investigate the facts and to report its advice. On 6th February, 1948, the Security Council made an appeal to both India and Pakistan to agree on a just settlement of the Kashmir problem, to put an end to violence and hostilities and to withdraw all regular and irregular forces who had entered the State from outside. These resolutions were supplemented by a comprehensive resolution passed on 21st April, 1948 and the UNCIP’s resolutions of 13th August, 1948 and 5th January, 1949. Truce was declared on 1st January 1949. However, rather than adopting the process of demilitarization as envisaged in the aforesaid resolutions India has made the area that it holds in Kashmir as one of the most militarized areas in the world (confirmed by many international reports).

Security Council Resolutions asked the UN to facilitate a “free and impartial plebiscite to decide whether the State of Jammu and Kashmir is to accede to India or Pakistan.”

The then Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, unambiguously committed himself many times to the plebiscite arrangement. Mr. Nehru’s telegram to the British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, where, in paragraph No.3, he committed:

“I would like to make it clear that the question of aiding Kashmir in this emergency is not designed in any way to influence the State to accede to India. Our view which we have repeatedly made public is that the question of accession in any disputed territory or State must be decided in accordance with the wishes of people and we adhere to this view.”

This commitment of the Prime Minister of India was repeated and forwarded by the Prime Minister of Britain to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on 27th October, 1947 by stating that “He adds that he would like to make it clear that the question of aiding Kashmir in this emergency is not designed in any way to influence the State to accede to India”. This was reproduced in the said judgment.

SCOP has made it very clear that they are in agreement with the suggestions put forwarded by the Sartaj Aziz committed formed by the previous PML Govt. In para 19, on page 19, the SCOP wrote, “We are in agreement with the conclusions of the Committee on both the above noted counts: (i) that there is a need for further substantive reforms to enhance the participation of GB’s citizenry in governance; and (ii) that in no way and at no point should the proposed reforms prejudice Pakistan’s principled position regarding the status of Kashmir”.

It’s important to note that the Committee recommended, in part, that:-

  1. GB be accorded a “provisional” and special status of a Province pending final settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute;
  1. The region be given representation in the National Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan through amendments to Articles 51. and 57 of the Constitution, rather than an amendment to Article 1 thereof;
  • All legislative subjects other than those enumerated in Article 142 of the Constitution and its Fourth Schedule be assigned to the GB Assembly;
  1. GB be given representation in all constitutional bodies; and
  1. A robust local bodies system be introduced.

The Committee also suggested broad reforms in other key areas, including infrastructure development, socio-economic uplift and the civil service.

The mere fact that the SCOP agreed with the Committee’s recommendations makes it clear that GB is not a disputed territory, although it may be a victim of Kashmir dispute.

SCOP has put the ball in the Federal Government’s court and now it is in the hands of political leadership to grant constitutional status to GB.

SCOP has also made it clear in the judgment; “It is clear that granting full rights to them does not in any way prejudice the eventual determination of the status of Jammu and Kashmir. A state of vacuum cannot be created for the people of GB. They, after all, are as entitled to all the fundamental rights as are enjoyed by others. Therefore there can be no prejudice to Pakistan’s position on the plebiscite issue if the men, women and children living in GB are guaranteed basic human rights and a role in their own governance within a framework of a constitutional nature. Indeed, full rights for the people of GB can only bolster Pakistan’s case for the right of self-determination for all the people of Kashmir”.

What is needed now is that all the political parties join hands and show their willingness to let GB grow constitutionally. Preventive measures need to be taken proactively and a nationwide dialogues including the representatives from GB and other state owned institutions must be held immediately to help implementing the  recommendations emerging as a result of these dialogues .

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