Gilgit-Baltistan, A fading jewel on a crownless head
By:Samson Simon Sharaf
–Co Authored with Mr. Izhar Hunzai
An amendment proposed by the Federal Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan and approved by the President of Pakistan in GILGIT-BALTISTAN (EMPOWERMENT AND SELF GOVERNANCE) ORDER 2009 in paragraph (aa) in clause (1) of Article 20 reads, “Notwithstanding anything contained in this Order, the President may appoint the Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan as the ex-officio Governor of Gilgit-Baltistan”.
The amendment is a slap on the rhetoric of self-determination. It is contrary to the basic spirit of the 2009 Ordinance and universal democratic values. It is also an infringement on the basic human rights of the people recognised internationally and in conflict with Article 3 of the Constitution of Pakistan. This Article prohibits exploitation with the words, “The state shall ensure the elimination of all forms of exploitation and the gradual fulfillment of the fundamental principle from each according to his ability to each according to his work”. It is also an aspersion on the spirit of Article 1 (2) (d) of the Constitution that has specifically been placed successively to respect the aspirations of the people of Kashmir and other regions who wanted to join Pakistan in 1947.
With one swipe by an insensitive babu on the directions of an exploitative mind-set, whatever meagre empowerment and self-governance existed, the ordinance arbitrarily rendered it meaningless by an exploitative mind-set of political wolves and vultures. Imagine the insensitivity. Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan an ex officio non-voting member in the original ordinance has been elevated as governor. From a legal viewpoint, granted that the constitution of Pakistan does not extend to Gilgit-Baltistan, the President, Prime Minister and the Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan are bound by this constitution to abide by certain norms and values. When they implement an amendment in violation of two of the first three articles of the constitution, they are guilty of taking extra constitutional steps for political advantage in violation of the Constitution of Pakistan. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, Election Commission of Pakistan, human rights groups and legal experts must take notice of this treason.
The amendment has discredited whatever credibility existed in the 2009 reforms to provide relief to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan similar to those in other provinces. An evolving journey of 68 years by the people of the Karakorum and Himalayas who call themselves ‘The Jewel of Pakistan’ has been thrown in the dustbin. With no clue of nation building and nationalism, Pakistan’s rulers have once again embarked on a journey of self-destruction; one of the many self-inflicted wounds in the one step forward and many backwards merry go rounds and seesaws.
The motivation behind this arbitrary amendment is the upcoming elections in Gilgit-Baltistan. The government of PMLN vying to secure a majority in the Gilgit Baltistan Assembly have deprived the people to advise a governor. There are at least five local individuals canvassing within PMLN for this post. The stimulus is the fear that the appointment of any one of these would alienate the other four and compromise prospects of the PMLN in elections. Now they are being persuaded to act as donkeys and follow the carrot. This marks the first step towards a deliberate and planned pre-poll rigging in the upcoming Gilgit-Baltistan elections eroding Pakistan’s moral standing on the Kashmir Question. I hope the Election Commission is awake?
Historically ruled as a collection of independent mountain states, Gilgit-Baltistan always enjoyed a distinct political identity. In 1842, a local prince, Karim Khan, overthrew the ruler of Gilgit with the help of a Sikh army. In 1846 under the Treaty of Amritsar, the East India Company sold all the hilly territories east of the Indus to the Maharaja of Kashmir. In 1877, the British retook control of Gilgit as part of an anti-Russia forward policy and established rule under Gilgit Agency. Internal autonomy remained intact with local rulers. On August 14, 1947, as a prelude to an illegal and fabricated Instrument of Accession by the Indian Government, the departing British Administration handed over Gilgit Agency to the Maharaja of Kashmir. A war of liberation ensued against the new colonial rule, the heroic struggle culminated in independence on 1 November 1947. On 15th of November 1947, the newly founded Republic of Gilgit declared its unconditional accession with the state of Pakistan. People of the region opine that their only link with the State of Jammu and Kashmir has been forceful subjugation and literal sellout of the area by one colonial ruler to another. After liberation of the area and the decision to join Pakistan, this link was severed forever. In the tradition of slaves being sold by one master to another, successive Pakistani rulers within the present demeanor stand to expose their petty mindset on issues of human liberty and dignity.
Though Pakistan was quick to form an effective government in Azad Kashmir, these prized areas of Gilgit-Baltistan have remained hostage to exploitative politics for the past 68 years. The people who fought a self-initiated war of independence and unconditionally declared to become part of Pakistan remain slaves in the bondage of constitutional expediencies and short sighted policies. Gilgit-Baltistan, unlike Azad Kashmir, is underdeveloped and extremely poor. People do not have opportunities and no rights to be represented in Pakistan. Despite natural beauty, abundance of resources and five of the world’s highest peaks, tourism remains a trickle because of sectarian militancy. Due to the migration of businesses from down country and an influx of outsiders, the native populations are fast becoming a minority in their own land. Like the people of FATA, Thar and remote Balochistan, they are slaves whose destinies are decided by their masters. Separatist and sub nationalist sentiments are on the rise and successive governments have done little to win hearts and minds. With time, alienation will breed forces of secession and then it will be too late.
The constitutional jargon to deprive these people of their democratic rights is illogical. Why can the democratic right like Azad Kashmir not be extended to Gilgit-Baltistan? If the Government can sign a boundary agreement with China with disregard to international law, why can’t Gilgit-Baltistan be given the status of a province at par with Azad Kashmir? And why must the Federal Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan always act as a guardian over those who joined Pakistan by choice? Why can’t Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan be represented in the Senate? There will be constitutional arguments built around aberrations.
It is high time our rulers break out of the shackles of greed, bigotry and double standards and truly understand what the vision of Pakistan stands for.
Originally published in The Nation