Understanding the GB Governance Order 2018
The people of Gilgit –Baltistan have been relegated to oblivion for 70 years of their struggle for meaningful integration with the mainland Pakistan.
By Amir Hussain
Divine Comedy is profanity because it invokes the evil spirits where the inferno and purgatory consume the human will to goodness. Dante’s journey to hell, purgatory and paradise is instructive of our state of being in Gilgit-Baltistan in 21s century. Purgatory in the mountains of extreme North of Pakistan –the Gilgit-Baltistan was codified in an Order issued by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on May, 29, 2108 in the GB Legislative Assembly (GBLA). Political agitation against what is termed as ‘a colonial style direct rule’ by the protesters seem to be unveiling the intent of the document as it unfolds to public in pieces.
Being a piecemeal document with little attention to details there are serious discrepancies between the speech of prime minister and the actual content of the document. The allegorical journey of Dante and Vigil to hell, mountainous purgatory and paradise may be a genius of human imagination. But here it resembles with the enforced divinity of prime minister of Pakistan over the people of Gilgit –Baltistan who have been relegated to oblivion for 70 years of their struggle for meaningful integration with the mainland Pakistan. The document of Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment Order 2018 merits to be called as the order of divinity that bestows upon the prime minster the powers of divinity whose will to rule and subjugate cannot be questioned in any court or constitutional body of the country.
It is surprising to note that the claimants of democratic transition of Pakistan are hell-bent to trample the fundamental rights of the people of GB through an Order that embodies the draconian laws of colonial period. How could the leadership of PML-N be so indifferent to the rights of the people of GB while it has upped the ante in Pakistan for injustices heaped upon it by what it termed as ‘anti-democratic forces? The Order 2018 reflects hypocrisy of an outgoing government which has compromised the political future of 1.6 million people to appease the Kashmiri leaders in a simple calculus of utilitarian political gains.
The federal government did not consult with the GBLA assembly in preparing the draft of this Order of divinity while the chief minister Hafiz Hafeez ur Rehman told lies about the actual content of the document. The chief minister and his team failed to convince the people of GB about blatant intrusion into fundamental rights of representation through an arbitrary political scheming. The document of the Order 2018 makes prime minister of Pakistan as ultimate authority unbound by law of the land and constitution to promulgate or abrogate any ruling, legislation or appeal of amnesty without any accountability. Even the kings of medieval ages did not enjoy such political powers in their heydays equivalent to the authority the prime minster and president have reserved for themselves in this Order of divinity.
There is no moral justification left for the leadership of PML-N to question the judiciary and establishment for isolating its top leadership when their government has done worse than that to the people of GB despite the fact that they were not coerced into this. The chief minister of GB will bear the brunt of this move and people of GB will not accept this colonial order whatsoever as the political mood suggests. Sanity must prevail and this Order must be revoked or amended to avoid the political backlash which will be a zero sum game for all stakeholders who want peace and stability in the region. The stakes are high because the political unrest may adversely affect the progress on CPEC and other developmental initiatives in the country.
The people of GB have never supported any centrifugal political drift but they are being punished for their demand of full accession to mainland Pakistan and equal political rights as enjoyed by all provinces of the country. The Order 2018 has reversed the progress made on the integration of GB with Pakistan while there is mounting international pressure on Pakistan to come up with a model of political representation for GB. Let us now turn to some of the key features of the Order 2018 to understand the context of public fury in the GB.
The Order says, “ The Prime Minister, the Governor, the Chief Minister, and Ministers shall not be answerable to any court for the exercise of powers and performance of functions of their respective offices or for any act done or purported to be done in the exercise of those powers and performance of those functions
A person shall not be appointed as the Chief Judge of the Supreme Appellate Court of Gilgit-Baltistan unless he has attained the age of sixty-five years and, – (a) is a retired judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan; or (b) is a retired Chief Justice of a High Court under the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan
Tax to be levied by laws only. – No tax shall be levied for the purposes of the territories of Gilgit-Baltistan except by or under the authority of law and all taxes and levies competently imposed under any law shall remain in force.
About the citizenship the Order 2018 describes: “Citizen” means a person who has a domicile or resident of Gilgit- Baltistan and who is a citizen under the Pakistan Citizenship Act, 1951 (II of 1951).
Legislative Powers. – (1) Subject to this Order, both the Prime Minister and the Assembly shall have the power to make laws, – (a) for the territories of Gilgit-Baltistan; (b) for all citizens of Gilgit-Baltistan; and (c) for the employees of the Government, wherever they may be
Subject to this Order – (a) the Prime Minister shall have exclusive power to make laws with respect to any matter in the Legislative List set out in the Third Schedule, hereinafter referred to as the Legislative List:
Acquisition of land. The Government of Pakistan may, if it deems necessary to acquire any land situate in Gilgit-Baltistan for any purpose, require the Government to acquire the land on behalf, and at the expense, of the Government of Pakistan or, if the land belongs to the Government, to transfer it to the Government of Pakistan on such terms as may be agreed mutually.
The Order 2018 also finds pretext in not extending the constitutional cover to the protection of fundamental rights of the people of GB due to the Kashmir issue. The issue revolves around a myth that giving rights to people of GB will jeopardize Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir dispute which is an absurd assumption with no cogent political reasoning. On the contrary, Pakistan’s policy stance on Kashmir dispute has been weakened due to its reluctance to integrate GB into mainstream political structure of the country. This stance is like submitting to Indian claims that GB must not be integrated to Pakistan without the consent of India. It is important to know that the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued a ruling in 1999 which said that GB could be given the provisional provincial status till the resolution of Kashmir issue.
Last year a committee was constituted by the Government of Pakistan under the leadership of Sartaj Aziz to prepare recommendations for the Government to decide on the future mode of governance in GB. The committee through a consultative process gave its recommendations to Government of Pakistan proposing immediate integration of the region through a provisional provincial status under the constitutional ambit of Pakistan. The current Governance Order 2018 is neither an outcome of the committee’s recommendations nor it honors the ruling of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The people of GB want a political arrangement that must empower the region trough devolution of powers while the Order 2018 empowers the center. The imperial motives and will to divine powers meted for GB could have tempted Dante to re-write his Divine Comedy if such power lust was displayed by papacy in the 14th century of Europe.