The Government of Pakistan's reported move to give constitutional status to the region of Gilgit-Baltistan without delcaring it as the country's fifth province, is at best controversial, a well known advocate of peace and human rights has said.
In an article published by the Dawn, Ibn Abdur Rehman (I. A. Rehman) has said that if Gilgit-Baltistan is accepted as a part of Pakistan, it should be treated at par with the country's other four provinces in every respect, and if it is a disputed territory, in the context of the Kashmir issue, it should be given the status allowed to Kashmir.
In the article titled 'Storm in Gilgit-Baltistan', Rehman appears to be critical of the federal government's move to prepare a "highly controversial" scheme of constitutional reforms for Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) without giving that area the status of a province like it has done with Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and believes that all stakeholders must be consulted to prevent a situation that could go out of control.
He says, "As if it did not have enough crises on its hands in the final days of its tenure, the government has stirred up a hornet's nest by preparing a highly controversial scheme of constitutional reforms for Gilgit-Baltistan (GB)."
He further states that wehen the The National Security Committee (NSC) has advised the federal government to consult stakeholders on the draft measure titled 'Government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order, 2018', on May 3, why isn't it doing so. "Any other observer might have said the same thing because, among other objections, a lack of consultation with the people concerned is writ large on the document," Rehman adds.
In his article, Rehman lists seven reasons why the 'Government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order, 2018' could invite opposition and objection , both in the short as well as the long term. These are as follows:
• The Government of Pakistan will (continue) oversee the management of Gilgit-Baltistan affairs through the federal prime minister instead of the GB Council as hitherto.
• The prime minister will perform in relation to GB the functions assigned to the president of Pakistan. He will have the power to make laws for GB and a law made by him will override a law made by the territory's legislature, now called GB Assembly, after deletion of the word 'legislative' from its title.
• All Pakistanis recognised by the Pakistan Citizenship Act of 1951 as well as residents and those holding GB domicile will be citizens of the area (the only word used to describe GB, as the word 'province' is never used for it). This definition of citizenship will give Pakistanis from outside GB significant advantages over the natives.
• The order incorporates the fundamental rights (with additional constraints on the right to freedom of association and deletion of the reference to freedom of the press from the article on freedom of expression) and the Principles of Policy given in the Constitution of Pakistan.
• Also incorporated are the articles from the Constitution of Pakistan dealing with the definition of a voter and the election of members of the assembly (with some pruning of the parliamentarians' disqualification clauses).
• The GB assembly shall not discuss "matters relating to foreign affairs, defence, and internal security" and the conduct of a judge.
• No citizen of GB is likely to become the chief judge of the Supreme Appellate Court because only retired judges of Pakistan's Supreme Court and retired chief justices of high courts of Pakistan are eligible.
In his article, Rehman makes a case for the need for the Pakistan administration to listen to the country's vibrant and opinionated student community as to what they have to say on the issue of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Recalling his participation in a recent seminar at a university in Lahore, Rehman described it as a "unique affair" in the sense that it was attended by students, representatives of the opposition as well as members and spokesmen of the GB government, and that there was appreciation of the students' point of view exhibited by the latter, which is "rarely displayed by the authorities anywhere else in Pakistan."
He said that representatives of the GB government appeared to even be apologetic about the conviction of Baba Jan, the Attabad Lake hero, who has been sentenced to 40 years in prison, as also the incarceration of widely respected advocate Ehsan Ali for violating the Anti-Terrorism Act.
Rehman said the passion with which the students, especially those hailing from Gilgit-Baltistan, voiced their views, reminded him of the time "when young men and women from the subcontinent went to study in Europe in the last century and were encouraged by the environment of relative freedom to voice their people's political aspirations."
"Instead of being shown the rod every now and then, these students deserve to be listened to with due consideration," Rehman says in his article.
The draft order is the final outcome of a three-year exercise undertaken by Sartaj Aziz-led constitutional committee appointed by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif in 2015.
The draft order has faced a severe backlash from opposition parties, the GB Bar Council and the High Court Bar Association.
Rehman believes that not granting Gilgit-Baltistan the status of Pakistan's fifth province and not ensuring their representation in the National Assembly and the Senate of Pakistan is one of the many reasons for the fierce criticism of the draft order.
He believes that there is hope for the issue to be resolved on the basis of the declared intention of Islamabad to safeguard the "right of self-determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir in accordance with the United National Resolutions."