The question of provincializing Gilgit-Baltistan has haunted Pakistan time and again since the former’s unconditional accession in 1948. PTI government is grappling with similar challenges but came up with a resolute intention to make the territory – the fifth province of Pakistan, unlike her predecessor regimes. India has warned Islamabad of possible violations of her international commitments and deliberate alienation of Wilsonian right of self-determination for the long-troubled Kashmiris. Yet, it doesn’t appear to be affecting the government’s policy in any visible manner. Instead, Pakistan was looking for an appropriate retaliatory measure since India stripped off IOK of its special constitutional privileges under article 35A and 370.

In the 19th Century, Kashmir, under the Dogras’ rule, annexed GB’s territory after immense bloodshed and chaos. Until 1947, GB was governed as a subservient union territory. When Sub-Continent was partitioned and the fate of princely states was decided, many states manifested their inclinations, but Kashmir wanting Independent statehood ceased making any significant move. India forcibly annexed the territory prompting the Maharaja of Kashmir to sign an Instrument of an accession under duress. GB was an integrated territory of Kashmir then and so too came under Indian sovereignty. Briefly after this unlawful annexation, a revolt by local scouts obviated Indian dominance and carved out an independent entity which lasted for only 16 days. Jinnah negotiated a political settlement leading to GB’s accession to Pakistan. Now, Pakistan was administratively governing the land – enforced FCR with a system of political agents appointed by the federal government. Tensions rose between the two newborn states mainly over territorial considerations and resulted in the first Indo-Pak war of 1948. United Nations demarcated an internationally recognized ceasefire line called Line of Control.

Further, they proposed an impartially held plebiscite for the territories in question so that they themselves could determine their political fate. Trust deficit prevented neither side to withdraw troops, and the resolution receded into cold storage. Furthermore, the Karachi Agreement signed in 1949 established Pakistan’s federal control over the area by the federal ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern areas. In 1972, the region was directly placed under federal control and named as Northern Areas after unification. A representative body was formed, called the Northern Areas Advisory Council. It was an 18-member body chosen through direct elections and was to be headed by a commissioner. Benazir introduced the Legal Framework Order (LFO)-1994, which created the Northern Areas Legislative Council. The leader of the house of this body was the deputy chief executive, while the minister of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas served as chief executive. The legislative council was given 49 legislative subjects of local scope like irrigation, a local tax and out of court settlement etc. Ironically, in the dictatorial times of General Musharraf, sweeping reforms were made to the LFO, unlike previous democratic regimes;

  1. Greater fiscal responsibility was handed to the Northern Areas government
  2. A new post of principal accounting officer was created.
  3. The Northern Areas Legislative Council turned into the Northern Areas Legislative Assembly.
  4. The number of legislative subjects increased to 61.
  5. The house leader was now the chief executive, while the minister of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas became the chairman of the legislative assembly.
  6. The most indispensable change introduced by General Musharraf was granting the Northern Areas Legislative Assembly the right to amend the LFO.

Afterward, in 2008 Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order renamed the region as Gilgit-Baltistan to assert their distinct cultural identity. It was a comprehensive document of reforms, instituting adequate institutional mechanisms with more progressive means to delegate authority to local people. A unicameral legislative assembly was constituted from which a chief minister was to be appointed who would later independently choose his cabinet members. Extension of authority to local government was severely curtailed by the formulation of a parallel de facto council – A 15-member committee chaired by Prime Minister and vice-chairmanship was given to the federally appointed governor. The Prime minister will appoint six members and six will be chosen from GB local legislature. This council was empowered to legislate upon 53 subjects.

Furthermore, the Supreme Appellate Court was conferred with equal powers as that of the Supreme Court of AJK. The 2018 GB presidential order recently demonstrates the national government’s desire to secure autocratic centralism and crystallize a deep hesitance to empower local administration. The order places the territory at the mercy of prime ministerial veto with no virtual power constitutionally available to locals. The proposed order intends to grant GB the status of a provisional province, subject to the plebiscite decision to be conducted in accordance with the UN resolutions, with all privileges provided by the Constitution. According to the order, the provincial service commission and the office of provincial auditor general will be established with FPSC, Auditor general Pakistan and Council of Islamic ideology given full-authority in the region. It also annulled the previous GB order of 2009 and transferred actual power from GB council to Legislative assembly whereas; the final decision of PM must prevail who reserves the right to declare any legislative fiat defective and can adopt amendments to the laws by overriding legislative competence, under Article 41 & 60. Similarly, PM can determine and thereby levy taxes for the region under Article 65. Local appointees will also be included as non-voting members of constitutional bodies like the Council of Common Interest, Economic Coordination Committee and National Finance Commission.

Gilgit-Baltistan, throughout its excruciating history, has faced hegemonic domination in one way or the other. After the Kashmiri supremacy decayed, Gilgit’s indigenous people suffered political deprivation and constitutional marginalization under Pakistan’s rule. Hitherto, GB is neither a full-fledged province nor a self-governing entity but exists as a geopolitical loophole, with crippling curbs imposed on the local population’s aspirations. Continuous structural repression, social exclusion and political alienation led to nurturing many sub-nationalist movements already threatening Islamabad’s sensitive northern frontiers. Since inception, this territory has been governed by temporary measures in the form of presidential orders, which incited the local population to feel that only constitutional integration and subsequent recognition as a provincial territory could redress their grievances. In this regard, the yesteryear apex court passed the judgment, restoring GB order 2018 by declaring it a de facto and de jure part of Pakistan. Court further elaborated the question of citizenry status of the local population, stating that the solution to their problems exist in creating requisite state facilities that could guarantee the unhindered provision of fundamental rights at par with Pakistani citizens and considerate accommodation of locals in decision-making process provided the guarantees of UN Charter are not offended.

The current government’s decision to grant non-provisional provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan in defiance of international commitments and domestic judgment would lead to Pakistan’s pernicious ramifications. But, the move could invite some optimistic entailments, too. By provincializing the territory and creating a provincial legal regime – human rights violations, particularly sectarian killings and land-grabbing incidents, could be tackled more effectively. Gilgit’s constitutional consolidation can also be productive in addressing Chinese investors’ apprehensions as their investment would get proper legal cover under Pakistan’s legal jurisdiction. Moreover, the inclusion of long-neglected GB residents in national policy-making could assuage the anti-nationalist sentiments and counter the secessionist movements, particularly ‘Balawaristan.’ An intensely polarized society like Pakistan can’t afford maturation of another separatist struggle after Pashtunistan and Balochi nationalist movement.  Therefore, by intertwining their stakes in national affairs – we could enhance their loyalty to the country and materialize peaceful co-existence.

Similarly, the region’s resources are exploited and assets are utilized without extending any satisfactory economic benefit to the local community. This, too, contributes to rising intolerance against the center. Each year, GB would be earmarked sufficient financial share after becoming a province according to the NFC award. Flagship projects like Diamer-Basha dam and Moqpondass Special Economic Zone would lay down the founding stone of local prosperity.

Contrarily, Gilgit-Baltistan is only a de facto part of Pakistan and hence, carries a disputed status. It is considered a constituent territory of larger Kashmir, whose sovereignty is still under question. Granting provincial status to GB would amount to accepting the status quo and resultantly, Pakistan would lose the legitimacy in demanding independence for Kashmiris. This move could vanish away the struggle of seven decades and perpetuate the misery of besieged Kashmiris. If GB becomes the fifth province of Pakistan, then this move will be no different than India’s revocation of Article 35A and 370. However, the strategic move could create four possible scenarios;

  1. Gilgit Baltistan could become a Chinese-dominated sub-state. Because of its special strategic position, predominant Chinese investment in the form of CPEC and China would get a better opportunity to besiege India from another front.
  2. It could really bring about prosperity for locals and their long-held desire for national integration could be fulfilled.
  3. Perennial war zone or hotspot among regional powers.
  4. In addition to it, the political move would anger India, but both states’ limitations for opting for military options would make diplomatic means a more persuasive policy tool. However, the recalcitrance of both states could render the issue irresolvable forever. Let’s hope for the best.

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