By Dr Shabir Choudhry
03 September 2009
Pakistani government and a large section of Pakistani media hailed the new package on Gilgit and Baltistan as a big 'reward' for the people of the region; and some even said that these areas have got khud mukhtari – meaning independence. If these areas got 'independence', that means they were occupied before; which means the country that granted this 'independence' occupied them.
Pakistani control and rule in Gilgit Baltistan was not legal and had no moral justification. As a matter of policy resources were plundered and people were deprived of their basic rights since 1947. All the packages given to Gilgit Baltistan by different Pakistani governments ensured that Pakistani control and influence remains intact; and people do not get their fundamental rights or enjoy fruits of democracy.
Pakistani love for democracy and rights of the local people could be seen from the fact that the Committee which recommended this package, and which will have great impact on lives of more than two million people had no representation from Gilgit Baltistan.
Chief Executive will now be called Chief Minister
The existing system was set up by Pakistan not long ago; and was pro Pakistan. The Chief Executive in that system was a local man - Meer Ghazanfar, even he was not consulted on this matter. He, like other people heard it through the press conference. Similarly so called 'Northern Areas Legislative Council' or any of its members was not consulted.
Even East India Company consulted some local people before taking any major decision regarding its colony – India. Pakistani rulers take it as an insult to consult people of Jammu and Kashmir under their control; and if people complain or criticise they are declared anti Pakistan or pro India.
Leaving claims of Pakistani officials aside, let us look at what the new package brings to people of Gilgit Baltistan; and how it differs from Pakistani Administered Kashmir. One good thing in the package is that, at last, Pakistani officials have acknowledged that these areas are not 'Northern Areas' and that they should be called Gilgit Baltistan.
Existing 'Northern Areas Legislative Council' will be replaced by a Legislative Assembly, which will have 24 Member directly elected. These elected Members will elect 6 women Members and 3 Technocrats. This Assembly of 33 will elect a Chief Minister instead of a Chief Executive. The Chief Minister will be responsible for the government and chair meetings of the Cabinet, but interestingly will have no right to select his Cabinet.
Chairman will now be called Governor
In the existing set up the Chairman holds lion's share of powers, and he is replaced by a Governor who will be appointed by Islamabad (President). The post of the Governor will go to a Pakistani who has to be more than 35 years old; and has the qualifications to become a member of the National Assembly of Pakistan. The tenure of the Governor will not be fixed and he will be holding the office as desired by the President. This Pakistani Governor will select a Cabinet for the Chief Minister. The constitutional head of the region will be the Governor who will have enormous powers but won't be accountable to anyone for his actions.
The Governor will convene a meeting of the Assembly 30 days after the election to elect a Speaker, Deputy Speaker and the Chief Minister. The Governor will also appoint Advocate General. It is believed that, like in case of PAK, Gilgit Baltistan will also 'benefit' from a Pakistani Chief Secretary, Finance Secretary and IG Police to ensure that Pakistani interests are protected.
On a model of Pakistani Administered Kashmir, Gilgit Baltistan will also have a Council which will be headed by Prime Minister of Pakistan just like in case of PAK; and Governor of Gilgit-Baltistan will be its Vice-Chair. The Gilgit-Baltistan Council will consist of 15 members. Six members will be selected by the President, Prime Minister of Pakistan and the Governor of Gilgit-Baltistan. Six members proposed by the Chief Minister and the Legislative Assembly of Gilgit Baltistan. The Minister for Kashmir Affairs will be a member of the Council; however he will not have right to vote.
Although Gilgit Baltistan will have its own Legislative Assembly, but in practise it won't have much work to do as the Council Chaired by Prime Minister of Pakistan and outnumbered by Pakistani members will take most decisions; and the Assembly will have no power to challenge any of the decisions.
Apart from that the Governor and other Pakistani officials, like in case of PAK will wield tremendous power. They will ensure that only pro Pakistan people are elected to the Assembly; and that elected people do not cross the line, as the 'elected' Members don't cross the line in PAK.
The Gilgit Baltistan Assembly or Council won't be allowed to discuss or legislate on issues relating to defence, foreign affairs, finance, security and interior. It will have no power to legislate against the principles of Sharia, and in case of any confusion it can approach the Islamic Ideology Council of Pakistan. Furthermore, just like in PAK, no one will be allowed to legislate or work against the ideology of Pakistan.
It is because of all this the people of Gilgit Baltistan have rejected this package, although some pro Pakistan and insignificant people have welcomed it. Hamid Khan, Chair of BNF said: "I strongly condemn this type of setup which further strengthens Pakistani occupation". He said the package is designed to 'strengthen the bureaucracy and unelected forces which rule on the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. He calls it a 'governor rule'.
It is a 'New Package with old policy', which aims to maximise Pakistani gains at the expense of the local people. Aim of Pakistani policy makers has always been to subjugate people, deprive them of fundamental rights, strengthen undemocratic forces, and promote communalism, extremism and hatred to divide people and plunder resources of this area.
Malika Baltistani, Chairperson Gilgit Baltistan National Alliance, in a letter to PM of Pakistan said: 'It is a mournful reality that you have further continued a tradition to prolong our slavery by only altering the titles of the portfolios of our future "masters" than transforming our constitutional, democratic and basic rights from darkness to enlightenment. What you have "endowed" upon us is a provincial set up but without a provincial status, a political system without political empowerment, a constitutional package without constitutional rights, a constitutional draft for Gilgit Baltistan without the input or suggestions by Gilgitis and Baltis'.
Only the change of name has been appreciated
Only thing which people have appreciated is the change of name; otherwise all those who matter have rejected the package and called it 'an eye-wash'; and a gimmick of words to perpetuate the bureaucratic rule over the region. Manzoor Hussain Parwana, Chairman Gilgit-Baltistan United Movement said, "The so called provincial set up aims at concealing the human rights violations and continue the colonial control over the region".
Advocate Ehsan Ali, Chief of Labour Party Pakistan Gilgit Chapter rejected the package and said that it would increase the sense of deprivation among the people. "The real powers rest with the governor, who is President's appointee and not answerable to Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly," said Mr Ehsan. There is no constitutional protection to the provincial setup.
One can see the strength of feelings against this undemocratic package given to people of Gilgit Baltistan by a government which brags about its love for democracy and rights of people. If leaders of PPP are sincere with cause of democracy and human rights then they should consider withdrawing this package and take people of the area in confidence before declaring anything.
The Writer is a Spokesman of Kashmir National Party, political analyst and author of many books and booklets. Also he is Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. See his other blogs at: drshabirchoudhry.blogspot.com