By Ibrar Ahmad Ghani
The people of Gilgit-Baltistan are unanimous in seeking their territory’s recognition as a part of Pakistan by the virtue of their accession in November 1947. In colonial period this region was governed by the British government as “Gilgit agency”. This region was administered by the active hands of British colonial government in 1935 under the lease of 60 years considering the fierce threat of Soviet Union. In response to such a threat, this agency was controlled by British and a scout force was recruited named “Gilgit scouts” to limit the aggression. With the demarcation of boundaries, the British started to evacuate its presence from the region and sent some Kashmiri administrators to govern the region. The foreign ruler was unacceptable for the local people, a liberation war was fought against the Dogra rule and succeeded in achieving the independence on 1st November 1947. The region was independent for a couple of weeks and then acceded to Pakistan on 17th November. In the post-independence period, the Pakistani government followed the British policy of allowing local kings to rule their respective principalities. It allowed enough space for local rajas (kings) to wield their power within their areas without affecting the overall administrative arrangements of the federal government. This region was governed by the FCR rule until the elections of 1970. The bureaucratic setup controlled the entire region under the ministry of Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan affairs. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto abolished local princely states between 1972 and 1974 and introduced a new administrative setup. Since then, Gilgit-Baltistan has been administered by Pakistan, which led to a gradual regional political participation, although it has not formally been integrated into the state as a province. The reason for this is the region’s connection to the Kashmir dispute, following the UN resolution and Pakistan’s position of attaching it to the Kashmir conflict. The fierce opposition from leaders of AJK in gaining the identity and political status over the course of time had caused hatred among the people of the respective region. Gilgit-Baltistan being historically and culturally different denounces the Kashmiris perspective that this region is an integral part of Kashmir and cannot be incorporated to the constitution of Pakistan without the consent of AJK. Interference of AJK leader on the issue of determining political status of Gilgit-Baltistan has been supplied by the agreement of Karachi in 1949. This agreement was signed by the governments of Pakistan and AJK excluding the local representative of the region, which caused a condition of political limbo. The people have no representation in either house of Parliament nor do they have a right of access to the higher courts of Pakistan. At present, the region is administered through the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order 2009, an act of the executive power and therefore not approved by the National Assembly.
CONSTITUTIONAL STATUS OF GILGIT BALTISTAN:
The independent status of 16 days in the early days of liberation from foreign rule and accession to Pakistan was the prominent phase in determining the constitutional status of the region. Lack of political power and representatives paved the way to AJK government to govern the region. The Karachi agreement of 1947 provided an efficient testimony to integrate the region to Kashmir. The government of Pakistan planned to declare the region as independent from Kashmir. But the AJK government’s continuous assertion, by referring to Karachi agreement, that the region is still an integral part of Kashmir has created an ambiguity both at the national and regional level, regarding its status and identity. In order to win the region into its control, the Kashmir government passed a resolution in 1972 claiming the region as its territory. The high court of Kashmir ordered the government of Pakistan to hand over the control of Gilgit-Baltistan to Kashmir. This verdict was challenged in the supreme court of Kashmir in 1994. The court delivered the judgement denouncing the high court statement that Gilgit Baltistan is a part of Jammu and Kashmir not solely of Azad Kashmir.
In order to safeguard the fundamental rights of people, Gilgit Baltistan was provided with the legal framework order LFO in 1994. The legal frame work order set up a northern areas executive council with 24 elected member with limited powers. Three member chief court was established under the supervision of retired judges from the provincial high courts of Pakistan. In 2007 under Musharraf regime, the council was renamed as northern areas legislative assembly. In 2009, the government of PPP provided, Gilgit-Baltistan empowerment and self-governance orde consisted of a set of political reforms. This ordinance was designed to create an impression of self-rule. This too failed in providing the defined control of administrative functions of the region and political representation in the centre.
KASHMIR; HINDERING THE REGIONAL IDENTITY OF GILGIT BALTISTAN:
The question whether Gilgit Baltistan is a part of Kashmir? Has historically played a vital role in the voiding the identity of inhabitants of the respective area. The people of this landlocked area has faced numerous impediments in scoring a political identity since its allegiance to the state of Pakistan. The nationalist, the regional political parties and the religious parties had found struggle with the identity issue. The question of identity has flared up with the Beijing’s concern about the development of CPEC through this land, asking the recognition of the disputed territory. Herein the question arises. Why is the status of Gilgit Baltistan not defined yet? The answer lies in two arguments.
The vehement opposition by the leaders of AJK that integration of Gilgit Baltistan in Pakistan would lead to the integration of Indian held Jammu Kashmir in their constitution. Let me clarify that the Indian held Kashmir has been given special status under article 370 of Indian constitution.
Sardar Mohammad Yaqoob Khan, President of AJK, warned that the integration of this disputed part would be more disastrous than the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971.
The assembly of AJK passed a resolution on the status of Gilgit Baltistan, which limits the federal government to pass any law in accordance to the constitutional status of Gilgit Baltistan without the consultation of AJK assembly because the AJK claims the ownership of this land. The leaders of Indian held Kashmir also warned the Islamabad not to inscribe Gilgit-Baltistan a separate province. To them, this would give an excuse to integrate Indian held Kashmir formally to their constitution.
The second argument lies in the bilateral talks about the Kashmir issue. The United Nations already asked for a plebiscite in the Kashmir for their annexation to either of the states or to remain independent in 1948. But, it was procrastinated till the Simla conference. The following year of United Nations resolution, Kashmir agreement was signed in 1949 between the government of Pakistan and AJK bilaterally without any representative from Gilgit Baltistan. In this agreement, it was decided that Gilgit Baltistan will be governed by what is now called as the federal ministry of Kashmir affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan. However, the Simla agreement gifted the bilateral ties to resolve any issue without the participation of an arbitrator. The issue of bilateral talks had made the Gilgit-Baltistan a disputed territory. The government of Pakistan is still waiting for the day of the plebiscite and the participation of Gilgit Baltistan for securing Kashmir to Pakistan.
Both these arguments may be considered as valid but it provided an unrest in the region and had annoyed political forces of Gilgit Baltistan. To them delaying the identity is an attack on their rights of the region, which forfeited its basic constitutional rights for the cause of Kashmir. This had raised anger and suspicions in the region over Kashmiri and federal leaders as well and their intentions of wanting to keep G-B as a colony of AJK.
ASSOCIATION AND DISASSOCIATION OF GILGIT BALTISTAN BY THE STATE OF PAKISTAN
From the day of accession to present the government of Pakistan has been ambiguous in defining the status of Gilgit-Baltistan. The internationalization of Kashmir issue and the Karachi agreement on the one hand, and the voice of people and humanitarian organizations, on the other hand, to determine the identity of Gilgit-Baltistan had confused the government of Pakistan to take a clear stance on Gilgit-Baltistan. This disarray had been followed in recent times by two main issues.
The Jammu and Kashmir plebiscite; the failure in determining the regional identity by the government of Pakistan is provoked by this plebiscite. The government of Pakistan is claiming that as a part of Jammu and Kashmir the people OF Gilgit Baltistan will vote as a disputed territory that will help Pakistan in gaining Kashmir to its side. That is why the region is not yet integrated formally to the constitution of Pakistan.
The second statement about the status of Gilgit-Baltistan raised in recent period when Beijing declared to invest $62 billion in Pakistan, the route which connects the China and Pakistan would be passing through this region.
This created an alarming situation in the world especially to India which questioned the status of Gilgit Baltistan. Chinese’s government asked clarity about the status of this region which was rejoinder as negative and declared Gilgit-Baltistan as a part of Pakistan, not a disputed territory.
It is to be noted here that there is no defined status is marked in the constitution of Pakistan. The absence of such a declaration had led the people to suffer an identity crisis.
The Indian held Kashmir has been inscribed into their constitution in the article of 370 which provide special autonomy to the region. Changing stance of Pakistan in times of importance and usefulness of the region on one hand, and denouncing it when the question of Kashmir issue rises had caused foul sentiments and hatred towards the centre. The government of Pakistan was roused enough to make some half-hearted statements in addressing the issue of granting constitutional rights to the people of GB-without the intention of disturbing or altering its stance on the Kashmir issue.
It is to their credit that they are willing to accept a provisional status of citizenship despite securing their independence on their own and acceding to Pakistan unanimously.
The constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan must be solved as per convenience. Indian held Jammu Kashmir has been provided with special autonomy in the article of 370 of the Indian constitution which caused distrust among the people of Gilgit Baltistan towards the government of Pakistan. A system like Azad Kashmir or a provincial status should be granted in order to minimise the political grievances of the region.
Gilgit-Baltistan should be given representation in the national assembly and senate so that they may be inscribed into the mainstream decision making.
The fundamental rights which are guaranteed in the constitution of Pakistan should be extended to this region as it is suffering from various fundamental rights violation.
The self-governance ordinance is not adequately meeting the needs of people. Amendments should be made to this ordinance to allow local people greater controls of administration and political affairs.