GB’s status: SC seeks govt reply on Sartaz Aziz committee recommendations

Special Correspondent

Islamabad, Oct 15: Pakistan’s top court Monday sought Senator Sartaj Aziz’s recommendations on the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan and issued a notice to the federal government to submit its written response on it in two weeks.

A seven-judge Supreme Court bench directed the government to furnish the Sartaj Aziz committee recommendations to the court with its response on it on November 1, the next hearing of the case.

The larger bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar was hearing arguments on the main petition filed by the Gilgit-Baltistan Bar Council and  32 identical pleas challenging the Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 and seeking implementation of the SC verdict of 1999.The petitioner’s counsel, Salman Akram Raja, presented arguments on the plea and highlighted the importance of the case, in historical perspective and in the light of the UN resolutions.

He pleaded the court to direct the government to implement Sartaj Aziz committee recommendations which envisage a provisional provincial status for the region through constitutional arrangement and not through executive orders.

The petitioner has sought provisional provincial status or provisional territory and representation in parliament and all constitutional bodies — National Finance Commission (NFC), National Economic Council (NEC), Council of C


ommon Interest (CCI) and Indus River System Authority (IRSA) — till the final settlement of Kashmir dispute.

The petitioner’s counsel argued that the GB Order, 2018, was “nothing but an illusion imposed on the people in the name of empowerment,” denying their fundamental right to self-governance through a democratic process and the right to access to an independent judiciary which amounts to a violation of the 1999 SC verdict.

He prayed the court to direct the government to enforce the fundamental rights of the people of GB by declaring them citizens of Pakistan with their full participation in the Federation, including the right to appeal before the SC and define the constitutional status of the region.

During the hearing, Justice Ijazul Hassan observed that in Indian-held Kashmir a provisional constitutional arrangement in place, however, it has not barred the Kashmiris from demanding self-determination.

The SC in its judgment of 1999 had declared that the people of Northern Areas (now Gilgit-Baltistan) are citizen of Pakistan for all intent and purposes and directed the then government to initiate appropriate administrative/legislative measures within six months from the date of the judgment to ensure that they enjoy all fundamental rights, to be governed through their chosen representatives and to have access to justice through an independent judiciary.

The petitioner further argued that in pursuant to the SC judgment of 1999, the PML-N government had constituted a special committee on 29th October 2015 under the chairmanship of Sartaj Aziz, then adviser to the prime minister on Foreign Affairs to propose constitutional and administrative reforms for GB.

The committee had finalised its report on 10th March 2017 and submitted to the Prime Minister with the recommendation that the fundamental rights of the GB be enforced with constitutional status and declaring them as full citizens of Pakistan.

Ironically, the recommendations could not be implemented in time and the government in the last week of its tenure issued the impugned GB Order 2018 hurriedly even without presenting the draft before the GBLA and taking the legislators and political parties into confidence.

The Order of 2018 contains provisions in violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution to the citizens. The Order stipulates that power to make laws with respect to any matter in the Legislative List vests exclusively in the Prime Minister of Pakistan, denying the power to the assembly.

The authority to appoint the chief judges of the GB Supreme Appellate Court and Chief Court as well as of other judges and the Chief Election Commission has been given to the prime minister. No role has been ascribed to the judiciary in the appointment of judges which is a violation of Article 9 of the Constitution.

The petitioner prayed the apex court to declare the SRO of June 6th, 2018, illegal, void ab initio, without lawful authority and contrary to the SC judgment and violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

The counsel further suggested that due representation should be given to GB in the parliament by allocating ten seats in the National Assembly and 12 seats in the Senate.

GBBC vice-chairman Javed Ahmed, who is the petitioner, and senior member of the council, Javed Iqbal and Amjad Hussain, told media persons outside the court that they were optimistic about the apex court verdict.

They hoped that the apex court will end 72 years’ subjugation of the people of GB and provide who have been kept deprived of their fundamental rights.

“It will also be a test case for the PTI leadership and its government to implement the Sartaj Aziz committee recommendations and end discriminatory treatment meted out to 2 million GB people.”

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