As Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) inches closer to elections, legal experts in the federal government have worked out an improved version of the constitutional package to be implemented in G-B soon afterwards.
“The next constitutional package will have more powers for the region than what the Empowerment and Self Governance Order of 2009 entailed,” said an official privy to the development. He added proposals to convert the G-B legislative assembly into a constitutional assembly are also under consideration. The proposal to declare G-B a tax-free zone is being pondered upon, said the official.
Similarly, some powers from the G-B Council – a body chaired by the prime minister – will be shifted to the elected assembly to allow it to make laws according to local aspirations. Currently, the powers to legislate on issues such as water, energy, forests, minerals and taxation rest with the six-member G-B Council, all of whom are federal ministers.
Once the document is finalised and approved by the president, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will make the announcement in a cabinet meeting. However, political pundits believe this will only be done once a date for the polls is set.
The Empowerment and Self Governance Order 2009 was introduced by Pakistan Peoples Party and paved the way for the appointment of a chief minister and governor for the first time in G-B’s history. However, neither portfolio wields as much powers as their counterparts elsewhere in the country.
“The titles of various portfolios will probably remain the same, but they are expected to enjoy more powers as compared with the existing setup,” said the official, referring to a briefing arranged by the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and G-B (KAGB) for the subcommittee of the Senate’s Human Rights Committee on Gilgit-Baltistan headed by Senator Raza Rabbani. The committee itself had visited G-B in April and met stakeholders to determine their reservations about the violation of political and constitutional rights in the region.
The briefing was arranged on Tuesday, a day after the G-B political leadership in a similar meeting in Islamabad sought temporary representation in the Senate and National Assembly of Pakistan until the Kashmir issue is resolved.
Secretary KAGB Shahidullah Baig, referring to a UN resolution on the matter, told the committee that G-B cannot be made a fifth province as demanded by certain politicians. “Like Azad Jammu Kashmir, G-B is a disputed territory as well and cannot be made a province till resolution of the Kashmir dispute,” said Baig.
However, legal experts are said to be carefully weighing the option of empowering G-B in a manner that does not affect Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir. The subcommittee has decided to meet with experts in the defence and foreign ministries after Eidul Fitr, to discuss options available to them in this regard.
“There’ve been deliberations over this issue for quite some time,” said Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz G-B President Hafeezur Rahman. “The issue is a complex one, because we have to keep the sensitivity of the Kashmir issue in mind, but I assure you, something concrete will come of it in the end.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2014.
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