ISLAMABAD: They have governments that look and feel like provincial governments but they are not provinces and their people do not have representation in parliament. While the 18th Amendment did much to improve the ability of provincial governments to serve their citizens, it did not resolve the question of the special status of Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir, two regions that exist in a constitutional limbo, with none of the same rights as the other federating units of Pakistan.
Unlike the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), AJK and Gilgit-Baltistan at least have their own local legislative assemblies. Both also have their own professional civil service. However, also unlike Fata, and despite decades of demands by local politicians and civil rights advocates, they do not have any representation in either the National Assembly or the Senate.
These observations about the constitutional status of the special regions was made in the government-endorsed State of Children in Pakistan report issued by the United Nations Children’s Fund, in collaboration with the Children’s Complaint Office of the Federal Ombudsman in Islamabad.
According to the study, the passage of the 18th Amendment and the 7th National Finance Commission Award has had a very disquieting impact on AJK. Under the constitution, AJK is not a part of the federation of Pakistan and is therefore not eligible to benefit from the National Finance Commission (NFC) award. This has had a serious bearing on its financial health.
For instance, before the devolution of political and fiscal autonomy, the ministry of food, agriculture and livestock had several on-going umbrella projects, directly funded by the federal government. Some funds had been allocated and utilised but since June 30, 2011 all funding has come to a halt. The same happened to other development projects in other sectors such as health, education, communication, and social welfare.
In G-B, the Empowerment and Self-Governance Order (ESGO) promulgated by Islamabad in 2009 introduced a number of administrative, political and judicial changes. While significant reforms such as granting full provincial status still remains an important milestone for the region, the gradient of development in the short to medium term will hinge on the government’s ability to anchor the recent ESGO reforms into something tangible and significant, said the report.
Despite recent developments, G-B has less autonomy in practical terms than other provinces of Pakistan. It has no representation in the federal government or Parliament. It has no role in policy making at the national level, and is kept out of the national mainstream. The passage of the 18th Amendment and the 7th NFC Award has led to uncertainty and confusion because now G-B will have to generate its own resources, which at this stage appears difficult due to the limited administrative setup and poor taxation system.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 14th, 2015.