GB Order 2018 is not a step forward

Last week saw developments of truly historic proportion transpiring in the country. In a matter of days, the 31st Constitutional Amendment got passed by the Parliament and the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa Assembly. The people of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) now await just a signature of the President for the region to formally get inducted into KP province.

While the treasury and opposition lawmakers and state officials who worked for the FATA merger deserve applaud, we must not let the annals of history forget the plight of the people of the region who endured barbaric colonial-era laws for 70-long years even after the British colonisers’ departure. True credit for the merger, therefore, goes to the longstanding struggle of the FATA people.

It is ironic that while FATA became history on Sunday, Islamabad’s chequered history vis-à-vis its people continued unaffected in Gilgit Baltistan (GB). Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi addressed a GB Legislative Assembly session where he sang praises of the controversial GB Order 2018, ignoring the fact that a grassroots alliance of various civil society actors, Awami Action Committee (AAC), has staged massive rallies and demonstrations against the order over the last week.

The GB Order 2018 was meant to be a step forward from the one passed during the Pakistan Peoples Party government in 2009. Under that ordinance, the process of self-empowerment — a cornerstone of republican values enshrined for the rest of Pakistan in the country’s constitution — had been started with the formation of a legislative assembly to be elected by the GB people on the principle of adult franchise. The 2009 order severely restricted the GBLA’s autonomy since all its affairs were to remain under the scrutiny of a 17-member GB Council to be headed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Meaning that real power over all legislative affairs lied with the authorities in Islamabad.

Against this backdrop, the 2018 ordinance is hardly a step forward. Infact, it makes matters worse by assigning an advisory role to the Council. Meaning that the latter’s power of scrutiny gets transferred to the PM sitting in Islamabad. With 62 legislative subjects under the exclusive domain of the Prime Minister the GBLA is unlikely to have any empowering role in the region’s government, once the 2018 order gets enforced. There are similar concerns over the lack of judicial authority vested in the GB courts whose jurisdiction remains limited to the region. Such a judicial authority will not be able to check any violations of the fundamental rights of the Gilgit Baltistan people. Therefore, Part II of the order, on fundamental rights and principles of policy, remains without the necessary legislative and judicial force needed to enforce them.  *

Published in Daily Times, May 28th 2018.

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