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The Uncertain Fate Of Gilgit-Baltistan

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Article 73 of the Charter of the United Nations obligates the member states to ensure respect for culture, development in different societal sectors, and protection against abuse for the inhabitants of non-self-governing territories. It also makes the signatories liable to develop self-government, take considerations of political aspirations, and ensure free political institutions. There are many states which are enlisted as non-self-governing territories according to the UN website. This list missed the present Gilgit Baltistan, which is the northern area of Pakistan. United Nations must include this region in the list of Non-Governing Territories because all the obligatory terms are found to be overlooked. This article explores the historical footprints of political evolution followed by suggesting the way forward.

Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) or the northern area of Pakistan is home to the highest mountains, diverse cultures, and glorious history. But, the post-partition (1947-) unsolved agenda of Kashmir between Pakistan and India had been the main hurdle for the political and social development of this region. The historical transformations highly depended upon the political events regarding the empowerment of people through various reforms. Even now, the future of the political and administrative landscape of GB is uncertain due to different complexities as well as a lack of political will. This piece of writing is, therefore, to analyze the possible outcomes of the future of GB.

When Maharaja of Kashmir Hari Sigh signed the controversial document of accession with India, local men within Maharaja’s army in Gilgit Baltistan rebelled and joined hands with the people for the liberation of GB. Consequently, GB got independence on 1 November 1948. A provisional government was established under Raja Shah Raees Khan as president and Col. Hassan Khan as Commander in Chief of the army. On 16th November 1948, Pakistan appointed its first political agent, Sardar Alam Khan upon the call of accession. There is no legal document of accession between GB and Pakistan. The administrative set up by Pakistan was reportedly established after receiving a wireless message from Gilgit. The then Gilgit agency under the Pakistani administration was ruled by a political agent.

In 1949, the Government of Azad Kashmir gave the GB region under direct control of the federal government of Pakistan by signing the Karachi Agreement. This agreement is highly contested among the people of GB because no representative of GB was there while signing the agreement. Therefore, the nationalist figures in GB consider this as an illegitimate act that gave the region directly into the hands of the federal government without their consent.

Gilgit Agency remained under Frontier Crime Rule (FCR) until 1974. The region was named Federally Administrated Northern Areas (FANA) under the ministry of Kashmir Affairs (KANA). The major reform during the premiership of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto abolished the “Rajgir system” in 1974. In1994, Legal Framework Order (LFO) was imposed to govern the area. In 2009, the PPP government introduced GB Empowerment and self-governance order. The new name “Gilgit Baltistan” opted instead of “northern-areas”. The new positions for Chief Minister, Governor, and certain ministries were formed after this reform.

Later in 2015, Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif made a committee- known as Sartaj Aziz Committee- under the advisor for foreign affairs, Sartaj Aziz, to propose further constitutional and administrative reforms. The committee recommended maximum devolution of power and de-facto recognition as an integral part of the country. The de-jure recognition was found contradictory to Pakistan’s historic stance on Kashmir. Unfortunately, Order 2018 also failed to reach the expectations of the masses, as the maximum authority was still in the hands of the PM of Pakistan. Therefore, despite approval from GBLA, a huge movement against order 2018 emerged under the slogan “No taxation without Representation”. The GB Appellate Court also moved an order against the implementation of this order restoring Order 2009. But, the Supreme Court of Pakistan overruled the Appellate Courts’ order.

The popular demand calls for full constitutional integration with Pakistan. But this popular demand ignores the complexities of being associated with the Kashmir issue. If Pakistan integrates the region and grants full provincial status, then it will be a deviation from the early stance, which committed to keeping the special status of the disputed land until the plebiscite. The former Pakistani High Commissioner to India, Ambassador Abdul Basit is of the view that the provincial setup for GB will be a similar action that India took on 5 August. Therefore, the maximum possible autonomy to the people is the best solution so far. The recommended provisions of the Sartaj Aziz Committee also clearly concluded this. The other fraction of people finds the solution in a provisional provincial setup which grants the authority equal to another province without any major constitutional change.

Back in November 2020, PM Imran Khan also vowed for a provincial setup while addressing the GB Independence Day Ceremony in Gilgit. Again the question is still there about the mechanism to follow in this regard. Now, the incumbent government is again relying on a committee that will work under the minister for Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan. It will be a test case for Imran Khan to sort out a solution that satisfies the people as well as ensures non-contradiction with UNSC Resolution.

The demand for a Kashmir like setup seems rational in this context. The people of GB are of the notion that they are deprived of their identity. On one hand, there are complications for conceding constitutional rights while on the other hand, Azad Kashmir is enjoying a unique status; owning a separate constitution, flag, and identity. Then why GB is being treated differently? This question is seriously haunting the educated – politically aware- youth of GB having know-how with the historical facts and execting critical observation of ground realities. The extreme demand can be in the form of an autonomous region compromising the three basics- defense, foreign affairs, and finance- to Pakistan.

The government of Pakistan should have a clear policy regarding GB. The honest efforts for granting the most feasible governing setup must be evident with a concrete decision according to the demand of the people. Neither the policy of forceful implementation nor the state of constitutional limbo will work for the better off of the unity. In the long run, the sense of deprivation and lack of identity will tend the masses to think in the other way which can hurt national harmony. The resentments with the Kashmir Agreement, abrogation of State subject Rule, and implementation of Anti Terrorism Act are the organs of the imperial way of governance which are imposed on them since independence. United Nations Charter, popular voices, and conventional wisdom suggest that Pakistan should take this matter seriously. Maximum autonomy, good governance, and societal development will nurture a true sense of independence- for which they fought and succeeded

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Naya Daur