Gilgit-Baltistan as fifth Province

By Shah Sawar Younas Khan

Gilgit- Baltistan –a name as old as the hills is associated with Pakistan since its independence. The territory which now comprised of Gilgit-Baltistan was divided into two parts i.e.Gilgit agency and Baltistan. Pakistan has always considered the territory to her name but could not make it officially due to its border linkage with Jammu and Kashmir. Gilgit agency and Baltistan was governed by Azad Kashmir Government until 1949, when the territory was handed over to the federal government of Pakistan through Karachi Agreement.

The Karachi agreement did not make the fate of the people of Gilgit Baltistan and they were governed through the Frontier Crime Regulation (a law made by the British to regulate the Frontier Regions). The Pakistani government made a ministry of Kashmir Affairs for the administration of the territory. In 1974, during PPP government new reforms were brought which united the two regions and named the territory as Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA). The ministry was renamed as Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas (MKANA).

The people of Gilgit-Baltistan did not enjoy the status of citizens enshrined in the Constitution of Pakistan. In 1999, the supreme court in Al-jehad trust case directed the government to take initiatives towards the empowerment of the territory and to ensure the fundamental rights. The verdict of the supreme court was not applauded due to political and strategic reasons. However, it came during the PPPP government in the year 2009 when Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and self-Governance Order((GBESGO) was executed. The order named the former northern areas as Gilgit-Baltistan and 24 members for Gilgit assembly was established which was to be elected directly. A province like status was given as the offices of governors and chief minister were sintroduced. This order did not guarantee any seats in lower and upper house of the parliament.

The first election took place in 2009 when the ruling party PPPP took majority seats. In 2015, the second election to the assembly took place and the then ruling party PML(N) took majority seats in the assembly. The ruling party ensured the people to give a status of province but due to the issue of Kashmir they could not make it a reality. The PTI government from the start was not in favor of a separate status of province, but last year the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A of Indian Constitution made a way out for the government. The elections of general assembly to the Gilgit-Baltistan had already been postponed due to the pandemic. The opposition parties are already on same page with the people of Gilgit-Baltistan as they have adopted a unanimous resolution to become a separate province.

The question is whether the PTI government would make it possible before the elections to Gilgit-Baltistan assembly? To change the legal status of the Gilgit-Baltistan the constitution needs to be amended. The cabinet had already discussed the matter and the minister for Kashmir affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan told media that prime minister Imran Khan would soon give the people of Gilgit-Baltistan the status of citizens of Pakistan. After almost 70 years it would be the first time that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan would enjoy the fundamental rights as citizens of Pakistan. The dark day is turning into a shining dawn for Gilgit-Baltistan. How far Pakistan would then appease the international community is a matter of fact.

Written by: Shah Sawar Younas Khan, student of law department in Abdul wali khan university, Mardan