The right to rule

Basil Nabi Malik May 23, 2010

The situation in Hunza has apparently taken a turn for the worse. Torrential rains and more landslides have made the situation even more precarious, with some feeling that the belated efforts of the relevant authorities have come somewhat too late in the day. Add to this the total absence and irrelevance of the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) government, in managing the natural disaster scenario, and you have a truly worrisome situation at hand.

When trying to understand the role and capacity of the GB government in bettering the lives of its people, a look at the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment) Order, 2009 would perhaps be a good start. Under this order, Gilgit-Baltistan was promised a new beginning. After decades of being directly ruled by Islamabad, it was apparently guaranteed autonomy in governance and an opportunity to resolve issues of local importance without federal dictation. However, under this order, it seems that the autonomy promised by the federal government was in fact quite less than what one had been expected.

As per the order, GB shall have a council which will consist of the prime minister, the governor selected by the president of Pakistan, six members nominated by the prime minister from amongst the federal ministers and members of Parliament, the chief minister of GB, and six members to be elected by the assembly in accordance with the system of proportional representation. And let us not forget the federal minister for Kashmir affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan is supposed to act as an ex-officio member of the council.

The council has powers over post and telegraphs, nuclear energy, designs, copyright, trademarks, aircraft and air navigation regulation etc, railways, matters related to incorporation and winding up of corporations, education, tourism and amongst other things, newspapers, books, and printing presses. All in all, there are 55 items in the council list, and most have ensured that the council, in which the government of Pakistan is handsomely represented, is equipped with subjects of the utmost importance and relevance.

On the other hand, there is also a Legislative Assembly of 33 locally elected representatives from the region itself. Out of the 33 available seats, 24 will be for those directly elected from the different areas of GB, six consist of reserved seats for women, and three for technocrats. Surprisingly, this GB assembly has the power to legislate on many items such as protection of wild animals, prevention of cruelty to animals, money lending and money lenders, botanical, zoological and anthropological surveys, betting and gambling, and amongst other things, “inquiries and statistics for the purpose of any of the matters in the list.” And this is only to quote a few!

In addition to this, there are other restrictions on the assembly itself under Article 44 of the order, whereby there can be no discussion within the same about matters relating to foreign affairs, defence, internal security and fiscal plans of the federal government. Furthermore, although given the power to levy taxes on certain subjects, considering the low rate of taxes collected from the area at the moment, it is expected that the federal government will be the major contributor to GB’s budget at least initially.

As can be deciphered from a cursory perusal of the order and some of the more important provisions of the same, the GB Legislative Assembly in comparison to the Council has seemingly been given a somewhat raw deal. Although the locals of the area have definitely been given more power and autonomy than they have had in the past, the same is patently insufficient to render the assembly and its executive potent. In light of the same, unfortunately, I find it hard to stop myself from empathising with the plight of the GB government in these trying times rather than cursing it for its insolence.

Published in the Express Tribune, May 24th, 2010.