With the unequal sovereignty accorded to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and within it especially to Gilgit Baltistan (GB), the region finds itself in a state of constitutional neglect.
Pakistan’s constitution does not refer to GB or Aazad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) as part of the country’s territory, but the Pakistan Survey describes GB as Pakistani territory. Political leaders in the predominantly Shia GB have demanded that the region be integrated as Pakistan’s fifth province or considered for true autonomy. And a minority demands that GB be part of the AJK. But the Pakistani state has responded to these demands with nominal reform.
On 15 November 2020, elections were held in 23 of the 24 constituencies in GB. There is speculation that with elections holding Imran Khan’s government intends to integrate occupied GB into Pakistan, making it the fifth province. This stems from a statement made by the Pakistani minister Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan Affairs’ Ali Amin Gandapur, quoted such as stating that the Khan government has decided to “elevate Gilgit-Baltistan to full provincial status with all constitutional rights, including its representation in the Senate and National Assembly.” India has “rejected” Pakistan’s proposal to upgrade GB’s status to a provisional province, denouncing the vote as a joke and aims to hide Pakistan’s illegal occupation of its territory.
The current election round is the third in the region since reforms created a legislative assembly in GB with very limited legislative powers. The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) won its first election held in 2009, followed by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in 2015. Earlier this year, when the PML-N government completed its five-year term, the government appointed a former Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Mir Afzal, as interim Chief Minister of GB.
The third Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) will have 33 members. The seven districts that held elections for 23 of the 24 constituencies were Gilgit, Hunza-Naga, Skardu, Astore, Diamir, Ghizer and Ghanche. With six constituencies, Skardu has the largest representation. Six seats are reserved for women and three for technocrats and other professional members.
The unusual delay in vote counting led to large-scale protests across GB, with allegations of fraud and accusations by candidates that the local election commission had delayed and manipulated the results. With five of the six winning independent candidates joining Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Imran Khan’s party is poised to form a government. P.
Chairman of PP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari accused of fraud in large-scale elections, “We will tell people that the slogan Vote according to the daaka namanzoor gaining momentum at GB. PML-N vice president Maryam Nawaz claimed PTI won seats through ‘cheating’, ‘bullying’ and with the help of turncoats. The allegations of fraud forced a recount of votes for certain constituencies. There were reports that paramilitary reinforcements had to be called after protesters took to the streets in Gilgit.
The GBLA came into effect on 9 September 2009, when President Asif Ali Zardari signed the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Government) Order. The order officially changed the so-called ‘Northern Territory’ name to GB and provided a 33-member legislative assembly with an elected chief minister. The trial is prohibited from discussing any issues relating to foreign affairs, defense, internal security and the Pakistani government’s fiscal plans and the conduct of the Judges of the Gilgit-Baltistan Supreme Court of Appeal, with the power to enact laws on 61 subjects. The act is also GB’s Supreme Court of Appeal, being the highest Court of Appeal in the region.
Covering approximately 72,971 sq km, GB celebrated its independence from the ruling Dogra family in Kashmir on November 1, following an uprising in the Maharaja forces, and Pakistan has controlled GB since 1948. Formerly called the Federal Administered Northern Territory (FANA), GB was separated from AJK on 1970s and never had self-government. While people in the region want to have legislative powers that are compatible with other provinces in Pakistan, the government has always been separate.
An important first step towards political empowerment in the region is the enactment of the ‘Gilgit Baltistan (GB) Empowerment and Self-Governance Order of 2009’ reserved for the Legislative Council. But the next GB order announced by Imran Khan’s government on 21 May 2018, deprives any “negligible powers” that had been delegated to the region under the 2009 order. The order grants more power to the prime minister, giving him final authority over legislation. -invited.
Harshly criticized by rights groups, the move, designed to deprive the people of GB’s basic constitutional and political rights, has been dubbed the ‘GB Emperor Order’ on social media. The command stated, “The Prime Minister will have the power to adopt amendments to existing laws or new laws that apply.” As the head of Pakistan’s administration, the prime minister does not have the power to make laws, nor does he enjoy such powers in the other four provinces. Considering that the people of GB have no representation in Pakistan’s federal legislature or any say in electing the prime minister, this extension of his role is essentially ultra-constitutional.
The UN Security Council resolution recognizes GB as part of the disputed territory. But Pakistan has continued with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and promised the GB community huge economic benefits from the corridor, which covers nearly 600 sq km in the region. The GB order is intended to waive any requests for self-determination by people in the region; with almost no authority to regulate major matters. The GB sequence of 2018 is by no means a genuine compromise. All real power over all legislative affairs goes to the GB Council in Islamabad, which is chaired by the prime minister of Pakistan. This is also further limited by the 2018 order, under which the GB Council’s powers were also taken and it was assigned only as an advisory role.
Although two decades have passed since local residents of GB filed a petition in Pakistan’s Supreme Court, drawing attention to political marginalization in the region, it was only in 2015, that India filed an objection to CPEC bypassing PoK, then led by the PML-N government formed a committee chaired by National Security Adviser Sartaj Aziz in 2015 to look at GB’s constitutional future. The region’s “disputed” categorization has acted as a trigger for the current regime to enforce a January 2019 Supreme Court decision to explicitly restore GB’s 2018 order, which was suspended by GB’s Supreme Court of Appeal. The decision has paved the way for increased control by Islamabad over the GB administration by increasing the quota of Pakistani civil servants to be stationed there and even GB’s top court judges will be withdrawn from among retired judges in Pakistan.
By holding elections in GB, Pakistan tries to solidify its claim to the territory without fulfilling the region’s request for self-determination. If it will be Pakistan’s fifth province, will it be treated equally with other provinces, and if not Pakistan accepts that it remains a “disputed province”? The jurisdiction of GB courts remains limited to territories, limiting their authority. This leaves cases involving violations of the basic rights of GB people unchecked. Schedule IV and the Anti-Terrorism Act are used to crush civilian dissent by arresting people and censoring them if they express their political views.
This year on his speech to the people on November 1, Imran Khan spoke of the beauty of GB’s majestic mountains and stunning landscapes, amid criticism from the opposition and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In his narrative, Khan has deliberately set aside the real problems and lack of political freedom plaguing GB society. His administration narrative tries to offer CPEC a cure for all GB problems, without the appropriate political developments.
Time for this declaration of GB and interest in declaring it as a fifth province, along with China’s CPEC whose starting point is the region. The region’s disputed legal status is a curse for Pakistan and China in enforcing CPEC.
As a stakeholder in the Kashmir conflict, the Prime Minister of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, Raja Farooq Haider, felt that the merger of Gilgit-Baltistan with Pakistan as his province would derail Kashmir’s struggle for self-determination. Former ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Basit was recently tweeted a cautionary note to the Khan government, “My advice for Islamabad – think carefully about GB. A step taken in reaction to what India did to the IOK would create controversy that could have been avoided. Don’t inflame beehives and undermine Pakistan’s principled position on dispute. “
Both the Indian and Pakistani governments have approved the text of the UN Security Council resolution on Kashmir, which has been endorsed repeatedly by the Council and by successive UN representatives. For India, the demilitarization of Pakistan in occupied territory is a precondition for the implementation of UN resolutions.
Although the decision to integrate GB as Pakistan’s fifth province has been announced, there is still a lot of ambiguity regarding its future. If it is “debatable”, is it subject to a future vote, and if it is a fifth province, is its constitutional status on par with the rest of Pakistan?
Vaishali Basu Sharma has worked as a consultant at the Secretariat of the National Security Council (NSCS) for several years, and is currently associated with the New Delhi-based Policy Perspectives Foundation.
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