By Ghulam Amin Beg
The old Indian narrative on Jammu and Kashmir of a democratic dispensation, constitutionally guaranteed local autonomy and unique status has disappeared overnight. Thanks to the fascist actions of Prime Minister Modi and the BJP government last year. The new status quo in Kashmir has created a new narrative for both pro-Indian and nationalist Kashmiris as well as independent human rights groups within and outside India. That India is an occupied force in Kashmir, you can’t trust the Indian leadership and constitution anymore and that the future of Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian Union is doomed.
Abrogation of local autonomy, revoking state subject rule, violation of basic human rights, imprisonment of political leaders and civil society activists, slapping the longest curfew in the history of the country, and internet blackout have added to the psychological, social and economic woes of the people, further alienating them.
Besides the current situation in IOK, fuelled by the anti-Muslim sentiments in India, this new narrative gets additional traction. However, India is cleverly trying its best to divert attention to Pakistan-administered Kashmir, especially Gilgit-Baltistan and CPEC as well as its staged theatre with China in Ladakh and Aksai Chin. But India will only succeed if Pakistan fails to see a new opportunity and continues its own repressive policies and colonial structure in Gilgit-Baltistan.
This situation in Jammu and Kashmir has created new opportunities for Pakistan to showcase to the world that the disputed territories under the administrative control of Pakistan, especially Gilgit-Baltistan is treated legally, democratically and differently. Pakistan is fortunate enough to have gem of a people like in GB, almost 100% of them — despite absurdities by Pakistan — continue to feel pride and support the decision of their forefathers to fight the Dogra regime out, and opted for integration with Pakistan.
Although GB fought its own liberation war against Dogra rule and joined Pakistan unilaterally and unconditionally in 1947-48, by sending an instrument of accession to Jinnah, Islamabad tied it to the Kashmir dispute due to the follies of diplomats and politicians of the time and intrigues by the British colonial officers. In return, Pakistan parked and bracketed GB with Kashmir dispute and later signed Karachi Agreement with the Kashmiri leadership who ditched GB and got its own constitution, flag, President, Prime Minister and local legislature. Pakistan took over GB’s administrative control in the name of ‘support to the local authority” under UNCIP resolutions, which it continues to rule as a colony through bureaucracy and the establishment for over seven decades now, with incremental and limited cooption of local elites through delegating municipal powers.
There is no disagreement that Islamabad has for over 70 years, neglected, deprived, marginalized and pushed Gilgit-Baltistan to the wall by erecting a colonial structure in violation of the spirit of the UN resolutions and failed to implement the orders of the courts of Pakistan in letter and spirit.
Now is the time for Islamabad to compensate for the idiocies, by presenting a counter narrative to India and the world that Gilgit-Baltistan is governed by a local authority through a participatory model of governance structure as also ordered by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
- The new model should be based on a two-tier system of empowered local/district governments and a provincial assembly that provides equal representation to all districts and cultural groups in a spirit of pluralism unlike the current faulty dispensation based on population.
- The local bureaucracy is inducted, trained and strengthened purely on professional merit.
- The civil society and private sector are involved in decision-making process to promote inclusion, equity and growth.
- An independent judiciary and system of justice is put in place with an induction of judges to the courts through an independent judicial commission comprised of chief justices, legislators and executive.
- Freedom of speech, expression, media and association is guaranteed.
- All political prisoners and rights activists put behind bar under the infamous Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) after unfair trial are released immediately; names of political activists put on Schedule IV of the ATA are removed.
- The federal government and agencies minimise their interference in civil affairs and only serve as watchdogs and ensure transparency and accountability.
- Besides, the Islamabad government only assists in administering the area, providing sovereign guarantees to foreign investors and provision of humanitarian relief, through a legal treaty signed between the democratically-elected assembly and rectified by the parliament of Pakistan, till the time the Kashmir dispute is resolved.
- And that the will of the people of GB though already expressed and acceded to Pakistan in 1948, can be ascertained afresh through a plebiscite under the supervision of the UN as and when warranted.
- The relationship between Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan need to be legalized so that CPEC and all mega projects in the disputed territory have a legal and constitutional cover.
- Gilgit-Baltistan also needs to be given representation in national decision-making forums including the Council of Common Interests, National Finance Commission and the parliament of Pakistan.
- The federal agencies and officials posted in Gilgit-Baltistan need to be under the local authority and all the subjects under the 18th Amendment need to be transferred to the local assembly.
- State Subject Rule need to be restored and implemented in letter and spirit to stop demographic change and safeguard the natural resources of the disputed territory and the indigenous rights of the local people to their common and ancestral lands.
This new participatory governance model, self-rule and empowerment will greatly help both Pakistan and the people of Gilgit-Baltistan in reducing trust deficit, provide confidence and unique identity and in communicating to the international community and India that the people of the disputed territory of GB are treated under UNCIP resolutions as well as international best practices of governance and local authority.
It will also help cement enhanced partnership with China through CPEC and BRI, as well an increased economic and cultural integration between the two regions of Xinjiang and Gilgit-Baltistan.
Ghulam Amin Beg is an international affairs commentator, development practitioner, policy analyst on youth, civil society and participatory governance with an eye on mountain areas in Pakistan and Central Asian region.