Weekly Bang-e-sahar, Saturday,April 12-18,2008
By Javed Ali Manwa
There are times when I am overwhelmed by helplessness. So overpowering is the feeling that I want to question those who rule the country and then suddenly disappear from the scene. The reforms package unveiled by President Pervez Musharaf on October 23, 2007 was an important step but it is insufficient to satisfy the fundamental demands of the two million people who have no legal or constitutional status and no representation in the parliament of Pakistan. It is unequivocally stated in the constitution that Gilgit-Baltistan is a disputed territory and it cannot be declared as the constitutional part of Pakistan until the dispute of Kashmir is resolved. Pakistani administration called northern areas as part of Pakistan but only for practical purposes and after fulfilling their purposes the government even does not look into the sorrows and grievances of the deprived people.
According to the reforms package, the Northern Areas Legislative Council has been converted into the Northern Areas Legislative Assembly (NALA) and its strength has been increased too. Besides, a 33 percent increase in women’s representation has been made by amending the Local Government Ordinance in addition of creating a new district of Hunza-Nagar. Air links will be improved and Rs500 million will be released in the fiscal year 2007 for infrastructural development and betterment of the people. Moreover, the deputy chief executive will be promoted to the Chief Executive and the Chief Executive will be called Chairman of the Legislative Assembly.
If we examine this package, we find that it is silent about the implementation of the Supreme Court verdict of 1999 in which it was directed that an independent judicial system should be given to the people of the Gilgit-Baltistan. The local Chief Executive is subservient to the Chairman who is the Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas.
The government needs to take more steps to improve the economic conditions of these areas. Generally, this package has brought some changes but the structural base of government remains the same. This package seems to be a half-hearted attempt by Islamabad to address the grave political, social, and economic grievances of the people of the Gilgit-Baltistan. Instead of taking cosmetic measures to resolve these problems, the government should take serious steps to consider the demands of the people includeing strengthening of political institutions, implementation of the 1999 SC decision, and transferring political and legislative power to the people.
If there is any legal compulsion in giving rights to Gilgit-Baltistan then why government doesn’t give separate legislative setup like it has given to Azad Kashmir. There is a greater need to address the issue on a preferential basis, failing which the political scenario might be embittered and people may rise against the democratic government. Now when there is democratic coalition government in the centre, people of Gilgit-Baltistan have a ray of hope that they will get their due rights.
The issue of legal status that has plagued the people of the region for the last six decades has been is raised in United Nations and the International Human Rights Commission and both insist on its resolution on a preferential basis. This is indeed a very good sign. In spite of all the recommendations from the international community, why Islamabad keeps us behind. These things compel me and two million inhabitants of Northern Areas to think that the government did half-hearted attempts in the past and took mere confidence-building measures in settling the constitutional status of the region.