Cabinet approves self-rule for NAs
* Northern Areas to be named Gilgit-Baltistan
* Governor to be appointed by president, CM to be elected by legislative assembly
* Kaira to act as governor until elections in region
By Irfan Ghauri
ISLAMABAD: In its special meeting on Saturday, the federal cabinet approved the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009, which would be implemented through a presidential ordinance to be promulgated shortly.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who chaired the meeting, later told reporters that replacing the Northern Areas Governance Order 1994, Gilgit-Baltistan had been proposed as the new official name of the Northern Areas where a governor would be appointed by the president to represent the federation.
Kaira: Until elections for the legislative assembly take place, Federal Minister for Kashmir and Northern Areas Qamar Zaman Kaira would act as governor.
The new order also proposed that the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly – whose elections are likely to be held by the end of the year – should elect a chief minister.
The legislative assembly would consist of 30 members, 24 to be elected directly and six on reserved seats for women and technocrats. The chief minister would be assisted by six ministers and would be authorised to appoint two additional advisers. The Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly would have powers to make laws on 61 subjects while the council would deal with 55 subjects.
To empower the council and the assembly on financial matters, there would be a council-consolidated fund under Article 54, and the Gilgit-Baltistan Consolidated Fund under Article 55 of the 2009 law. The annual budget would be presented before the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly as is the practice in the provinces.
The chief judge of the Supreme Appellate Court would be appointed by the chairman of the council on the advice of the governor. The number of judges would be increased from three to five and the tenure of the present judges of the superior judiciary would be protected under the new order. (Daily Times).
Rescuing the Northern Areas
Some people think that the self-governance reforms package for the Northern Areas announced on Saturday is already too little too late. But given how many things are nowhere near solution in the country, the PPP government has taken the right step. The Northern Areas will be Gilgit-Baltistan from now on, with its own elected Assembly, albeit in parallel to an independent Council working under a centre-appointed governor.
The PMLN could have opposed it simply because the change will favour the PPP, but it hasn’t, which is a sign of maturity. In its earlier tenure in power, the PPP had allowed party politics in the region, which had immediately led to the dominance of the party there. But in democracy, some things done for short term political gain finally turn out to be good for everyone in the long run. The important thing for this increasingly disturbed border region is that it has got self-rule.
The PMLN has welcomed the big change of status. It is quite clear why it has done so. During its rule it had discovered that the Northern Areas were ruled entirely from the point of view of “national security” and there was little that the central government could do — despite the political parties’ activities there — because the locus of power in Gilgit was firmly in the hands of the army.
The Northern Areas’ nationalism has developed in opposition to the constitutional limbo in the region. It was accepted by the state as a part of Kashmir in international treaties. Azad Kashmir claimed it for that reason and challenged an early law of 1949 that had separated it “administratively”. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan claim they had liberated themselves from Kashmir at Partition and want the status of a separate province. Like Balochistan and the NWFP, this nationalism too is focusing on the possession of natural resources and water and energy assets. Because they were representationally suppressed, a fringe began to call for “Free Balawaristan”.
Representation and freedom of party politics will undo some more serious damage done by two military rulers. General Zia-ul Haq, fighting a relocated Iran-Saudi sectarian war, allowed Sunni lashkars into the region in 1988 to cut the Shia majority down to size. This was a useless bloodletting in an area where the people were generally peace-loving. The Ismaili ethos of tolerance and tranquility represented by Hunza prevailed even among the Twelver Shia.
The tragedy of Gilgit-Baltistan sprang from its designation as an area of “strategic importance”. It faces Ladakh across the border in Indian-administered Kashmir. For countless years, the Pakistan Army eyed Ladakh for a set-piece battle with India, and each army chief was presented with a scenario of victory. Then General Musharraf came along and thought he could pull it off. In the process, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan went into another phase of sectarian massacres.
General Musharraf did not care that some of the “non-state actors” he was using at Kargil were savagely anti-Shia. After the fiasco of Kargil, sectarianism has never stopped raising its ugly head in the region and will take the salve of democracy now to heal. Religious leaders were killed under General Musharraf. Textbooks prescribed by bureaucrats were rejected. People arose against choices made in Islamabad of fundamentalist commissioners at Gilgit. And the local military commanders applied the iron fist indiscriminately.
If there is extremism in Gilgit-Baltistan today it should not surprise us. But the process of election, good governance and sense of participation will gradually lead to acceptance. The Karakoram Highway has opened up the region economically; the construction of Basha Dam will bring wealth and prosperity. Above all, the opening up of this heretofore “strategic” area to the media will tell the people of Pakistan for the first time what has been going on there and what should be done to bind the old wounds.
The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) has opposed the self-governance package because it hopes to liberate Jammu & Kashmir from both India and Pakistan and give it the status of a sovereign state. But anyone who has taken a close look at the people of Gilgit-Baltistan knows that their demand has been for a separate province within Pakistan, based on their belief that they are not Kashmiris. The JKLF can fight the next Gilgit-Baltistan election and see where it stands with the people. That is its right. (Daily Times)
A step in the right direction —Rasul Bakhsh Rais
Since Gilgit-Baltistan was part of the Jammu and Kashmir state, its fate became linked to which way the disputed state would go. This was implicitly the reason for the six-decades-long delay in restructuring the governance of the region
Granting a sort of autonomy, or self-rule, to the Gilgit-Baltistan region is the first critical step in the right direction. This is something that the people of the region have been demanding for a very long time.
But is the proposed structure of self-governance that is going to be implemented through a presidential ordinance enough, or do we need more in terms of autonomy from the outset of reforms than wait for further political demands? Have we, in this sense, neglected Gilgit-Baltistan?
The people of this rugged and difficult region have their own individuality and a sense of ethnic identity that has been shaped by history and geography over a long period of time. There is no doubt that this sparsely populated, vast region has diverse communities within it, but at the same time there are overlapping bonds of religion, language and social networks.
Parallel to unifying themes, there are also distinctive feelings among communities at the local level, a pattern similar to the social patchwork that we see in mountain communities.
Unlike tribal communities, the social networks that we have observed in Gilgit-Baltistan are essentially non-feudal, less hierarchical and more open to social change and development than even mainstream areas in the rest of Pakistan. One is greatly impressed by how local communities have embraced the idea of education, community organisation and development, often in competition to outdo others in achieving social and developmental objectives.
The people of Gilgit-Baltistan rightly take pride in liberating themselves from the Raja of Kashmir in 1947 and unconditionally acceding to Pakistan. This region like many others in the subcontinent had changed hands among local and foreign rulers before the Raja of Jammu and Kashmir annexed it in his ambitious quest of empire building.
Since Gilgit-Baltistan was part of the Jammu and Kashmir state, its final fate became linked to which way the disputed state would go. This was implicitly the reason for the six-decades-long delay in restructuring the governance of the region. In fact, equally crucial was the act in 1948 to separate Gilgit-Baltistan from what became known as Azad Kashmir or the Pakistani part of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir state.
It is interesting that Kashmiri nationalists on both sides of the Line of Control claim Gilgit-Baltistan as an inherent part of the Jammu and Kashmir state. The Indian government also took a similar position when it raised questions about Pakistan’s border demarcation agreement with China in 1963. In fact, Pakistan and China while signing the border agreement added a proviso that it was subject to the final settlement of the Kashmir dispute.
In the coming weeks and months, we will see a storm of protest from Kashmiri nationalists and even mainstream Kashmiri leaders over granting self-rule to Gilgit-Baltistan. One of the fundamental reasons Gilgit-Baltistan couldn’t get the status of a province was our interest in placating Kashmiris’ feelings.
There are two important issues that we need to discuss in this regard. First, who should really determine who the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are? No external power and group can fix the identity of any community. What is important in this case and universally acknowledged is how the people define themselves and the identity they give to themselves.
In our part, there are two sides to such identities, territorial and linguist-ethnic. The latter is much fuzzier because the territorial units we have evolved over centuries are not ethnically exclusive but contain other ethnic and linguistic groups. Gilgit-Baltistan has a territorial identity and a deep sense of historicity. But its linguistic particularities that are natural features of mountain communities living in isolated valleys are not too sharp to divide them into smaller identities.
How do the people of Gilgit-Baltistan define themselves? They may have petty regional differences, and sub-regional identities like Hunza and Nagar, but they don’t refer to themselves as Kashmiris. The only thing apparently common with the state of Jammu and Kashmir is their being subject to foreign rule against their will, and against which they rebelled and secured their freedom. But their freedom from the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir was unfortunately followed by direct federal rule from Islamabad in an independent Pakistan. But then the complex triangle of Kashmir, India and Pakistan and the sensitivities of the Kashmiri leaders that we have supported unconditionally at a great cost and may continue to do so were resistant in recognising the historic name and character of Gilgit-Baltistan.
The name sounds so natural and comes so easy on tongue than the bureaucratic characterisation of this historic people as the “Northern Areas of Pakistan”. The title Islamabad gave to this region and its people was devoid of human touch, as if territory mattered more than the people who have lived there for thousands of years.
The people in fact matter when they are granted the identity they wish to adopt, freedoms, and autonomy within a national framework of the state. There is no conflict and cannot be conflict between a national government and a region and province when powers are adequately devolved to the units to their satisfaction. This kind of federalism is a necessity in ethnically diverse countries like Pakistan.
Recognising self-rule for Gilgit-Baltistan should be considered a first instalment of governance reform with the objective of giving it the full status of province. The region has all the essential features, strengths, resources and more importantly political aspirations to become a province. The size of population should never matter in recognising such an historical realities; just cast a look at the variations in the sizes of American states: what matters is history for Rhode Island, Delaware and New Hampshire and not their demographic strength compared to California and New York.
The decision that the PPP and its coalition partners have taken in recognising rights of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan is courageous and politically mature. More than that it will pull the people of this region out of administrative mumbo-jumbo and set them on a clear path of political evolution to a province. It would be better and more far reaching if provincial status for Gilgit-Baltistan is settled in the constitutional reform package now, than to leave it for future political dispensations.
Finally, Kashmiri nationalists lack sound reasons for tagging Gilgit-Baltistan to Jammu and Kashmir. In their own struggle, what matters is their sense of identity, constitutive elements of community and historical facts that they believe separate them from the rest. Why then do they deny the same right to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan to define who they are and what type of political arrangements they want for themselves?