…a change in status of JK region
Gilgit Baltistan (GB) order 2018 promulgated by the government in power on May, the 21st has been subjected to much debate for obvious reasons. Strategically a sensitive region of erstwhile JK state, it has always been treated differently from rest of the state. It stays irrespective of the fact whether it was the pre-47 situation or the post-47 scenario. British Raj kept in eye on sensitive northern frontier, even while Dogra Maharajas ruled the state. It was done either through political agents or Gilgit agency. The names of British operatives–Durand and Younghusband reverberate, as the past is scanned. In 1935, Maharaja Hari Singh was forced to cede control, only to be honoured on ceremonial occasions. He did get the state back in 1947, as the British started rolling back their empire, however it was short lived. At the fag end of October 47, Gilgit agency commander—Major Brown pressed by the men in his command had to take Dogra Governor-Brigadier Ghansara Singh in protective custody. GB passed into Pakistan’s control.
In 1948 Muslim Conference-the predominant political force in Pakistan administered Kashmir (PaK) ceded control of GB to Pakistan’s federal government in its Karachi session. GB was thus destined to be treated differently from rest of PaK, with a different administrative set-up. It continues to this day, though with several administrative reforms in the interim. Pakistan had same compulsions as the British Empire—guarding the sensitive northern frontier. While as in times of British Raj Russia and China were the powers to be watched, Pakistan had mostly China to take care of, particularly in post-62 situation. Sino-Indian war changed the strategic equation. Pakistan concluded a border agreement with China, subjecting the final settlement to ultimate resolution of ‘K’ dispute. Sino-Pak bonhomie was borne of contentious state of affairs with India. In early seventies, Pakistan became a diplomatic bridge for Sino-US détente.
While relations with China were growing, GB bordering China was increasingly becoming a highly prized territory. China was having far-reaching global designs. In the midst of these diplomatic changes, the people of GB were craving for a settled political status. Non-resolution of ‘K’ dispute had left its permanent political status in quandary, with Pakistan feeling constrained to address the growing aspirations of the people. The demand translates to having legislative powers in tune with other provinces of Pakistan, so as to empower the executive and the judiciary. The first major step of political empowerment of the region was GB Empowerment and Self-Governance Order of 2009, wherein GB got self-governance to an extent. A fair measure of federal control however continued in the form of GB council.
Gilgit-Baltistan Order-2018, replaces the GB Empowerment and Self-Governance Order of 2009. The new order changes the nomenclature of Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly to Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly. And, all powers exercised by the four provincial assemblies under Schedule IV of the Constitution of Pakistan have been entrusted to the GB Assembly. The assembly shall have the right to pass legislation regarding mineral, hydropower and tourism sectors. These powers were previously exercised by GB council, and concern the most vital sectors of GB economy. The area is rich in minerals and its hydropower potential is estimated to be 40,000 MW, which remains unutilized much to the chagrin of the people. It is almost a virgin economy with tremendous potential for growth.
Gilgit-Baltistan Order-2018 shows some changes in judiciary too. While the chief judge of the GB Supreme Appellate Court would be a retired judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the nomenclature of chief court had been changed to the high court, with a bench of two judges. A five member committee has been slated to depoliticise appointment of judges of the GB Supreme Appellate Court and High Court. The prime minister would appoint judges in apex courts on its recommendations. The 2018 order shows changes vis-à-vis rights also. While as the last empowerment order (2009) guaranteed only 17 basic rights limited to GB territory, as per order-2018, GB citizens could demand his or her rights at any corner of Pakistan with access to all apex courts of the country.
While the Pakistan authorities deliberated over giving some permanence to GB’s political status, what hastened acceding to the regional demands is believed to be Chinese subtle pressure. It has been in the news over a considerable period of time that Chinese with their massive investment are not comfortable with the unsettled political status of the region. In fact it is a shared pain of all regions of erstwhile JK state, GB is no exception. The clamour for a change is understandable. The permanence in political status across LoC could only be ensured by Indians and Pakistanis coming to a comprehensive agreement with the principal party to ‘K’ dispute—the people of erstwhile JK state across LoC divide. Indian protest over change in the status of GB conveyed to the Pakistan’s deputy envoy in New Delhi—Syed Haider hardly carries weight in view of India affecting marked constitutional changes over years in Indian administered Kashmir. China sizzling its way through GB territory to markedly shorten its way to warm waters and energy sea lanes is an economic compulsion. Sooner or later, the economic compulsions of regional powers are bound to open the ugly knots of ‘K’ dispute—sooner the better!
Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]