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Constitutional rights for GB

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by Afzal Ali Shigri

LED by a small group of Gilgit Scouts, with the support and participation of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, the armed revolt to liberate the region against the repressive Dogra rule lasted for more than a year.

For a few days, an independent state of GB was formed in November 1947, which then made a formal request to the government of Pakistan for accession.

The rajas of various small principalities and areas also voiced their assent to join Pakistan. The Pakistan government dispatched its representative and a few army officers under the able leadership of Muhammad Aslam Khan (alias Colonel Pasha). Under his command, parts of Gilgit and all of Baltistan were liberated. While this irregular formation of brave warriors was on the march to Leh and Kashmir valley, the United Nations passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire.

All of GB had unconditionally acceded to Pakistan. Unfortunately, the political government of Pakistan decided its fate unilaterally instead of consulting with the local leadership. They did so by signing the infamous Karachi Agreement, 1949, with the Kashmiri leadership — who surrendered the administrative control of this vast region, which was inhabited by a patriotic and trusting people, without any attempts to guarantee their citizenship rights in Pakistan. Since then, the arbitrary rule of the federal government has carried on — the trust reposed in Pakistan through unconditional accession rewarded, in turn, with the harsh bureaucratic rule that introduced the draconian, colonial-era Frontier Crime Regulations (FCR).

It was the visionary leadership of the PPP that recognised this region’s importance and the necessity of addressing the issue of its people’s rights. The PPP leadership abolished the FCR and the jagirdari system by putting an end to the established rule of rajas in the autonomous principalities in GB.

However, what has followed has been a sordid saga of broken promises and the repeated denial of constitutional rights to the people of GB on flimsy, fabricated grounds. The linchpin of these rationalisations is the linkage of the area with the Kashmir issue; the palliatives are cosmetic decrees of self-rule that echo imperial ‘constitutional reforms’ envisaged for India by the British Raj. Oddly, it was again the PPP that took a major step in granting at least a façade of self-rule and autonomy through the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order, 2009.

The people of Gilgit-Baltistan have been waiting for full citizenship rights for almost 70 years.

Recently, against the backdrop of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and under intense pressure from civil society and locals, a committee was formed under the adviser of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to examine the constitutional status of this region. Two years of procrastination and inaction on the part of the committee came to an end when the hand of the federal government was forced by the Indian leadership’s relentlessly belligerent campaign against the passage of CPEC through this area. The government of Pakistan was roused enough to make some half-hearted statements about addressing the issue of granting constitutional rights to the people of GB — without the intention of disturbing or altering its stance on the Kashmir issue.

Even this small move by the federal government toward resolving this issue drew the ire of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir leadership. Kashmiri leaders across the Line of Control are likewise opposing any move to mainstream the people of this area — and the Indian media has joined in this propaganda, thereby objecting to any change in the status. Bizarrely, the Kashmiri leadership on both sides of the LoC seem to be in agreement with the hostile Indian leadership in opposing the granting of constitutional rights to the GB people. The matter has even been taken up in the British parliament at the behest of the AJK leadership.

While perusing the statements and the press reports, it is extremely disappointing to note the cavalier attitude of the AJK leadership, which has not even cared to properly read the latest resolution passed by the GB Legislative Assembly on this issue. If only they had taken the trouble of examining the resolution the assembly passed on Aug 11, 2015, they would have realised that GB is unwaveringly committed to Pakistan and the Kashmir cause and has no intention to hurt them. However, it seems that media reports are given more credence than the official document. Despite this attitude of the AJK leadership, the GB assembly has drafted the resolution prudently — asking for equal rights as citizens of Pakistan provisionally until a plebiscite is held in Jammu and Kashmir in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.

This is the most viable solution for dealing with this complex issue and is based on the precedent of a provisional arrangement entered into by the governments of Pakistan and China while demarcating the boundary between the two countries in this region. If it is adequate as the basis for an international treaty, then the arrangement should be good enough to grant constitutional rights to the loyal and patriotic Pakistanis of GB in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Even the Supreme Court of Pakistan has ruled in favour of granting full constitutional rights to the people of GB. The demand for provisional provincial status is to ensure the presence and participation of the GB government at all forums like the Council of Common Interests, Economic Coordination Committee, Executive Committee of the National Economic Council, etc, where decisions are taken that have a direct impact on the daily lives of GB’s residents, who are Pakistanis in letter and spirit, if not yet in the constitutional sense.

It is to their credit that they are willing to accept a provisional status of citizenship despite securing their independence on their own and acceding to Pakistan unanimously. The federal government should stand up to Indian pressure and not cave in. Instead, it must protect the rights of its most loyal and faithful citizens, thereby preventing this situation from becoming yet another missed opportunity. Courtesy: Dawn

The writer, a former police chief, belongs to Gilgit-Baltistan

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