Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Constitutional and political problem of Gilgit and Baltistan

Constitutional and political problem of Gilgit and Baltistan

Presentation made by Dr Shabir Choudhry in a Kashmir Conference organised by IKA in European Parliament on 8/9th April 2008

Chairman, friends and colleagues

Indeed it is an honour to be here to make a presentation on a topic of Gilgit and Baltistan, which is rightly regarded as the last colony on earth. This area is legally, constitutionally and historically part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, although at present it is under illegal occupation of Pakistan.

Various governments of Pakistan have not only ruled these areas with an iron fist, they have also divided people on religious, ethnic and linguistic lines; and have tried to change legal character by violating state subject laws and by calling these areas as Northern Areas of Pakistan.

Many writers, historians, European Union Report on Kashmir and contradictions of Pakistani governments on the subject of Gilgit and Baltistan clearly expose Pakistan’s stand on Gilgit and Baltistan. One only has to look at the Karachi Agreement of 28 April 1949 (which was signed by Nawab Mushtaq Gurmani a Minister of Pakistan and the ‘President’ of ‘Azad Kashmir’, Sardar M. Ibrahim Khan, and President of the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference, Chaudhary Ghulam Abbas); and China Pakistan agreement of 2 March 1963.

In the Karachi Agreement the Muslim Conference leadership signed the Agreement and practically gave away these areas to Pakistan, even though Muslim Conference had no legal or moral right to sign on behalf of the people of Gilgit and Baltistan, as the Muslim Conference did not have even a single member of their party in these areas- they had no political presence there. Similarly Pakistan signed the treaty with China and gave away around 2200 square miles of our territory to China which helped them to start a new era of friendship with China.

However Pakistan, in this Border Agreement once again accepted that the sovereignty of the region did not rest with Pakistan as Article 6 of the document read, and I quote:

‘The two parties have agreed that after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India, the sovereign authority concerned will reopen negotiations with the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the boundary as described in Article Two of the present agreement, so as to sign a formal boundary treaty to replace the present agreement, provided that in the event of the sovereign authority being Pakistan, the provisions of the present agreement and of the aforesaid protocol shall be maintained in the formal boundary treaty to be signed between the People’s Republic of China and Pakistan.’ Unquote

Mr Chairman

This clearly shows that even Pakistan did not regard these areas as part of its territory. But because these areas are rich in natural resources and have great strategic importance, Pakistan doesn’t want to lose control of these areas. The total areas consist of approximately 72,496 square kilometres, and have always had pivotal strategic importance, as it is regarded as ‘axis of Asia’, where South, Central and East Asia converge. Both India and China regarded Gilgit and Baltistan as a gateway to Central Asia and beyond to heart of Europe along the ancient Silk Route.

Since 1947 these areas have been under effective control of Pakistan’s Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. Rulers of these areas whether they were called Political Residents, a Joint Secretary, Political Resident, Chief Executive or Chairman have always been appointed by Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. At one time the tasks of Administration, the High Court and Revenue Commissioner were all pooled in the body of the Resident. Two Political Agents were appointed to help the Resident, one each for the Gilgit and Baltistan agencies, and they exercised enormous powers. Each of the Political Agents exercised the following powers simultaneously:
· District and Session Judge;
District Magistrate;
Revenue Collector;
Commissioner for FCR (Frontier Crime Regulations which were used by the British against the Tribesmen;
Inspector General, Police;
Chairman District Council
Controlling Officer of Cooperative Societies
Under this system People of these areas suffered immensely, and we cannot blame Pakistan alone for that, as leadership of Azad Kashmir and to some extent leadership of Jammu and Kashmir have to accept some blame or at least negligence for ignoring the plight of these people for so long.

One might ask about the role of government of India in this regard, which claims that the State of Jammu and Kashmir is ‘an integral part’ of the Indian Union. True, the Maharaja acceded to India, but it was a ‘provisional accession’ and had to be ratified by the people of Jammu and Kashmir. If India regarded the State of Jammu and Kashmir as its own then how one is to view India’s behaviour and silence in this regard. Was India not under any obligation to protect life, liberty and property of the people in the entire State?

In this regard IKA (International Kashmir Alliance) and some other NGOs can rightly take credit for highlighting the plight of these unfortunate people, and helping to bring Gilgit and Baltistan on the political agenda. Through our concerted campaign we have ensured that these areas are perceived as part of the Kashmir dispute.

Last year Baroness Emma Nicholson and the EU also made enormous contribution to this campaign by passing EU Report on Kashmir, and we are indeed grateful to all those who worked hard in preparation and finalising this important report.

EU Kashmir Report and Baroness Emma Nicholson has made very valuable contribution to the struggle of Kashmir by defining geography of the State to quash Pakistani propaganda on the issue of Gilgit and Baltistan; and by making an important distinction about right of accession and right of self – determination. What Pakistan is supporting and has been supporting since 1947 is not right of self – determination but right of accession. I want to make it clear that our struggle is for right of self – determination and not any kind of accession.

Pakistani governments have great experience in violating and abusing laws by introducing Legal Frame Orders known as LFOs. Not only they introduced many LFOs and ordinances for Pakistan but they have also generously introduced many LFOs to Gilgit and Baltistan. And the last in the series was introduced in October 2007 by President Musharaf who likes to implant democracy by use of gun and helicopter gunships. This LFO superseded the previous LFO introduced in 1999.

Pakistani authorities have hailed this as a big leap forward in empowering the people of Gilgit and Baltistan, but in practise very little has changed- so one can rightly say old wine in new and fancy bottles. People have the area have a local Chief Executive, but he will be subservient to the Chairman who will also be Minister of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas. He enjoys enormous powers as:

· He is not answerable to the Assembly
· He cannot be impeached by the Assembly
· A vote of no confidence cannot be tabled against him
· He can veto any legislation passed by the Assembly
· His approval is must to make any law effective
· His powers and actions cannot be challenged anywhere

The judiciary in practise has been made subservient to the Executive which already enjoys enormous powers. Judges have no job security. The bureaucracy will write Annual Confidential Reports on the Judges making them insecure and dependent on these bureaucrats. The Chief Secretary has powers to transfer Chairman of the Chief Court or employees of any other department or corporation.

Ershad Mahmood, a pro Pakistan Kashmiri writer and intellectual while commenting on the LFO said and I quote: ‘The legal system prevalent in Northern Areas does not guarantee the protection of the basic human rights. Entering petitions against the executive are out of the purview of the judiciary: thus, eve when the government takes extra – constitutional step or acts in violation of rules of land, it cannot be challenged in the courts. The Legal Framework Order is simply out of the jurisdiction of the judiciary. Even the Supreme Court of Pakistan cannot entertain any case regarding the Northern Areas as they are out of its jurisdiction.’ Unquote.

If we seriously want to help people of these areas then we should demand abrogation of this LFO, and in its place a system must be introduced where democratically elected people can legislate laws according to their needs, and where a system of accountability and transparency is visible.

Apart from that a bus service with Ladakh and traditional trade routes should be opened that people of forcibly divided region could trade, interact and meet each other.

We Kashmiris have some good friends in the world. These friends are important part of the European civil society, and we are grateful to them for their support but we must try to widen this circle of friends as we need more friends to promote the Kashmiri cause.

Some speakers have commented that Pakistani elections have resulted in ‘defeat for militarism and Islamism’. Also they supported the peace process between India and Pakistan. I would like to comment by saying that the Pakistani elections have resulted in a victory for democracy and moderation; and defeat for militarism and extremism and not defeat for Islamism. As for the peace process I also support that process but some where in that we Kashmiris should also be visible.

I thank you Chair.

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