ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Thursday constituted a ‘high level committee’ to review the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B).
Attorney General for Pakistan (AGP) Anwar Mansoor Khan has submitted notification of the committee before the seven-judge bench led by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar.
According to the notification, the committee consisting on ten members will examine the constitutional, administrative and governance reforms for G-B. Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs & G-B will serve as convener of the committee while other members are Federal Minister for Law & Justice, AGP Khan, Governor G-B, Law Minister G-B, Secretary foreign affairs, secretary defence, secretary ministry of Kashmir Affairs & G-B, chief secretary G-B and joint secretary (finance) G-B.
The notification also reveals committee will review “Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018” in light of recommendations of a committee led by Sartaj Aziz, judgment of the Supreme Court in Al Jihad Trust case 1999, recommendations of the AGP and will also examine the status in light of UN Resolutions on Kashmir and stand taken by government of Pakistan.
During the hearing, the AGP told the bench he has suggested three solutions to the government in this matter. The AGP while sharing these options informed one possibility being the federal government decides they do not want to make any amendment in the Gilgit-Balistan Order 2018 alia stating that the Order shall remain in force as it is.
Secondly, G-B Order 2018 is amended to remove the words “who is citizen under the Pakistan Citizenship Act 1951 in section 2 (b). Thirdly, the AGP also recommended amending the Constitution including G-B as temporary provisional province in the nature as provided by section 370 of Indian constitution.
During the hearing, Salman Akram Raja counsel for petitioner while referring to a summary of the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs & G-B has pointed out the ministry is still opposing to alter the status of G-B as per Al Jihad Trust case and UNCIP resolutions. According to the ministry, the proposition of giving it special status in the line of Indian constitution is therefore not tenable.
The Chief Justice also expressed concern that formation of the committee means the government wants to send the matter into “cold storage”, adding that the matter requires urgency. Another judge Justice Gulzar Ahmad said that that issue could have settled after 1947.
Aitzaz Ahsan, who is acting as the amicus in this case, recommended the bench to grant time to the committee owing to sensitivity of the matter. Upon this, the bench gave 15 days to the committee to decide the matter. The CJP made it clear if the committee could not take decision then the apex court would give its ruling while adjourning the case until December 4.
The main constitutional petition has been filed by G-B Bar Council through its Vice Chairman Javed Ahmed. Renowned lawyer Raja is appearing on behalf of the petitioner in this case, who has highlighted discriminatory and unfair treatment being suffered by G-B citizens.
The top court in Al Jihad case in 1994 had declared the residents of G-B people as citizens of Pakistan for all intend and purposes. In October 29, 2015, the PML-N led federal government had constituted a powered committee under the chairmanship of Sartaj Aziz
The committee recommended provisional provincial status but after the G-B order 2018, the committee’s recommendation to grant provisional status was overlooked.
The petitioner has requested the SC to declare Order 2018 as illegal and direction should be given to the federal government to grant provisional status of province through constitutional amendment. Likewise, the people of G-B should be given representation in the National Assembly and Senate.