Even hours after federal minister Chaudhry Barjees Tahir took oath as Gilgit-Baltistan’s new governor on Monday, his predecessor, Pir Karam Ali Shah, insisted that he was still governor and had not been removed from his office.
Acting Chief Justice of Supreme Appellate Court G-B Raja Jalaluddin administered the oath of office to Barjees Tahir at a modest ceremony at the Ministry of Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir Affairs as scores of people from G-B staged a protest in Islamabad. Protesters accused the prime minister of violating the 18th Constitutional Amendment by appointing a non-local governor.
According to initial plan, the swearing-in ceremony was scheduled to be at the Gilgit-Baltistan House, but the venue was later changed to avoid a planned protest by people from G-B. Barjees’ predecessor Pir Karam Ali Shah was not invited to the ceremony.
Interestingly, Shah said he has neither resigned from his office nor was he officially informed by the government about his removal. “I still consider myself the constitutional governor of Gilgit-Baltistan,” Shah said while talking to The Express Tribune.
“This is unconstitutional, unethical and illegal to appoint a new governor without taking resignation from or officially removing the incumbent governor… we seem to be living in the age of Sultans instead of a democratic era,” he said.
On Saturday, President Mamnoon Hussain, on the advice of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, amended the G-B Empowerment and Self Governance Order 2009 to pave way for elevating a federal minister as governor of G-B on an ex-officio basis.
Opposition parties, particularly the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, railed against the PML-N government’s move to roll back the constitutional rights guaranteed to G-B’s people under the empowerment order. They allege that Barjees’ appointment is an attempt to manipulate the elections for G-B Assembly scheduled for May 2015.
Earlier the appointment of the region’s chief election commissioner and induction of as many as 12 ministers in G-B’s caretaker set-up had also triggered a political firestorm while opposition parties and civil society organisations challenged the ‘unconstitutional steps’ in the court.
According to Article 101 Cause-II of the Constitution of Pakistan, “a person shall not be appointed a governor unless he is … resident of the province concerned.”
PTI politician Mirza Hussain said that amending the empowerment order to appoint a non-local governor was tantamount to cheating the people of G-B. “This act of PML-N government is a drone attack on the rights of GB people which will have serious implications,” he said.
Senior PPP leader Amjad Advocate said Barjees was a gentleman and apparently played in the hands of bureaucracy. He alleged that Hafizur Rehman, the PML-N president G-B chapter and a federal secretary, Shahidullah Baig, were instrumental in Barjees’ appointment as the pair was eyeing the ceremonial but lucrative slot in future.
There are reports that Barjees has been brought in as a stop-gap arrangement and that Rehman would be made G-B governor if he could not win the upcoming elections.
Rehman denied the allegation. He said that Barjees was elevated as G-B governor because there were many aspirants for the slot among PML-N’s local leadership. “This arrangement is for an interim period and soon a resident of G-B will be appointed permanent governor,” he added.
Federal Secretary Kashmir Affairs and G-B Shahidullah Baig also denied the allegation, saying that it was the solely the prime minister’s prerogative to appoint a governor. He added that neither he aspired to become G-B’s governor nor was he constitutionally eligible for the slot.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 17th, 2015.