by Inayat Amir
As the move for granting provisional provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) looms large on the horizon, political leaders, activists, journalists and civil society members from GB huddled in Islamabad on Saturday to ponder on fresh developments and features of the proposed bill.
The moot titled, Dialogue on Constitutional Status of GB: Challenges and opportunities, organized by Voice of Civil Society GB, called for thorough deliberation on the subject at public forums before putting it in the Parliament for a vote.
The discussion penal seemed fairly divided between those rooting for the provisional provincial status and those opposing it.
Dubbing the recent development a watershed moment in the course of history, Abbas Mosvi of the Pakistan Peoples Party said the proposed amendment will guarantee all the basic rights enshrined in the constitution of Pakistan to the people of GB. He said the proposed legislation will end an era of lawlessness by granting people the right to ownership and the right to rule.
Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front leader Tauqeer Gillani lamented that Kashmir was being divided through premeditated actions and designs. He opined that in all full-fledged provinces, constitutional rights were only being extended to the elite segment of the society at the expense of the poor and destitute.
He said that he was hitherto unfamiliar with the concept of the provisional province. He clarified that Kashmiris were never an obstruction in the way of granting full rights to the people of GB however, he categorically opposed the idea of giving GB provisional provincial status.
Senior journalist and Awami Workers Party leader Farman Ali discussed the issue in the context of the Pakistani state’s structure which he termed as a remnant of the colonial past controlled by the military and civil bureaucracy and capitalists. He also dilated on the relationship between GB citizens and the Pakistani state.
He dubbed the move an attempt at grabbing the natural resources, land and tourist resorts of GB at the behest of the capitalist elite.
He urged for the preservation of the delicate ecology of the fragile region by garnering support from the struggle of the working-class of the territory.
He lamented that the GB government was inviting big investors to exploit the potential in the tourism and mining sector of GB without having a mechanism in the first place. He warned against the follies of extracting resources on a larger scale while urging for a holistic approach.
Seeking maximum internal autonomy for the region he demanded that apart from defence, currency and foreign affairs, all other powers of legislation be granted to GBA until the promised plebiscite for the fate of the region under the United Nations.
Resolutions of the UN Security Council (UNSC) see this region, along with Azad Kashmir, as part of the greater Kashmir issue, whose final status is yet to be decided through a plebiscite.
Analyst and development expert Amir Husain while questioning the legal and technical aspects of the proposed amendment called for internal autonomy for the region in the light of UNSC resolutions on the Kashmir conflict. He pointed out the major stumbling blocks in GB’s way to becoming a province.
While it remains to be known as to what exactly the so-called package may entail, a fairly vast majority of the populace, especially intellectuals, academicians, youth activists, and socialist/nationalist parties are voicing grave concerns over declaring GB a provisional province of Pakistan. They believe it wasn’t a wise move that could ultimately satiate the longstanding demand for constitutional rights and make up for the decades-long deprivations.
Academic and leftist activist Zaighum Abbas, who also co-moderated the moot argued that the proposed legislation will pave the way for deliberate demographic changes and grabbing of land and resources by the powers that be. In a humorous way, he allegorically dubbed the move a pre-wedding engagement ritual before marrying off the region [GB] to Pakistan.
AWP leader Baba Jan, who was incarcerated for nine years on trumped-up charges and later released under mounting political pressure, delivered a charged speech on the occasion. He called for collective resistance to save the region from the onslaught of a plethora of challenges.
The revered political activist rejected the upcoming amendment and demanded maximum internal autonomy for his region.
Legal practitioner and coordinator to GB CM Yasir Abbas said that time was ripe for ending the longstanding deprivation of the people of GB. He said the draft bill was being prepared after careful reading of the Constitution, international laws, and the UNs’ resolutions pertaining Kashmir issue.
Cautioning against rumour mills, he said that nothing was finalized as of yet and a special committee including him was reflecting on the subject.
Ashraf Sada of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) second his thoughts and said that his party was fully supporting the Pakistan Tehreek-I-Insaf government on the matter. Participants of the moot called for similar discussion sessions in the near future regarding the constitutional status of GB.