Fundamental rights, Gilgit-Baltistan and simulating unification of Jammu & Kashmir

By Mazhar Iqbal //

The policy of divide and rule was once a favorite political gimmick of the rulers in pre-independence India. Indian parliamentarian and notable political commentator Shashi Tharoor has brilliantly dissected this policy in his article “The Partition: The British game of ‘divide and rule’”. Paul Goodman, in his article “Why Kashmir’s a British issue?”, published in the Conservative Blog in 2010 pointed out that the British made a mess of Kashmir roughly a hundred years after the former state was sold to Maharaja in 1846.gilgit-insight-on-kashmir

That mess takes human toll every single day. A 17-year-old Kashmiri youth describes it as “living in a conflicted state means everything that you ever witness, experience or believe physically and materially changes your brain. Seeing devastation, gunmen with long rifles slung over their shoulders, pictures of butchered and mutilated bodies, reports of people missing or hearing stories of people in dark prisons treated in unimaginably atrocious ways. And all this is completely different from living in any part of the world elsewhere.”

After 70 years of division of former princely state, Jammu and Kashmir is still in the middle of a humanitarian, legal, constitutional and political conundrum. The policy of divide and rule is still in place along with the strategy of simulating unification of all parts of the former state. The mock-up of unification efforts is at par with the policy of divide and rule as the sum total is a ‘bigger mess’. To keep this issue alive, India needs to repeat the demands of withdrawal of Pakistan from Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan. And Pakistan needs to ‘keep going’ with a current situation as it makes a sense to feed an army bigger than its needs.

The constitutional chaos in Gilgit-Baltistan is a recent example of putting fundamental rights away and trumpeting political harmony between Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. The political parties in Azad Kashmir rarely find an opportunity to unite on real issues of governance and constitutional powers. Yet, in an unusual exhibition of unity between the ruling party and the opposition parties, they have recently passed a unanimous resolution on giving similar constitutional powers to people of Gilgit-Baltistan as the people in Azad Kashmir.

The resolution was passed when Pakistan’s highest court had reserved a ruling in a case regarding the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB). The Supreme Court reserved this decision on petitions challenging the Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 and Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order-2009. Interestingly, the case has also backing from a significant portion of the people of the GB region that demanded that it should be declared a part of Pakistan instead of being administered through presidential orders.
According to a former judge who hails from this region, the people of GB had unilaterally and unconditionally acceded to Pakistan. And treating this region as part of Kashmir was a flawed notion, as a forcible occupation cannot overrule historical truths.

To satisfy the growing demand for constitutional rights, successive governments have been introducing reforms. One such effort was the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order, which was initiated on 9 September 2009. The purpose was to provide greater political empowerment and better governance to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. The people of the region have been demanding more legislative, executive and judicial powers since long. The new legislation affected all those areas that were part of Gilgit-Baltistan at that time. These areas were comprised of districts of Astore, Diamer, Ghanche, Ghizer, Gilgit, Hunza-Nagar, Skardu and such other districts that could be created later.

This constitutional change introduced the governor rule for the first time for people of the Gilgit-Baltistan region. However, it ensured that the executive authority of Gilgit-Baltistan by the government through a chief minister and cabinet. The Gilgit-Baltistan Council consisted of the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the Governor, six members nominated by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, six members to be elected by the GB assembly in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of a single transferable vote.

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