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Open Space

New package for Gilgit and Baltistan -New bottles with old wine

Dr Shabir Choudhry

At last military government of Pakistan has come out with a new LFO (Legal Frame Order). The last LFO for Gilgit and Baltistan was promulgated in 1994. One has to concede that Pakistani governments have tremendous experience in issuing LFOs to by pass constitution and legal system and to deprive people their basic human rights.

Many people expected that this time Pakistan government would be more sensible and 'generous' when dealing with this resource rich and strategically important areas of Gilgit and Baltistan. It was expected that the government would at least acknowledge sentiments of the local people and consider them being suitable to enjoy fundamental human rights and benefit from fruits of democracy and pluralistic society, especially after the EU Parliament passed a Report on Kashmir with huge majority.

Alas this was not to be, as people with imperial mind set, still feel that the people of this area do not deserve to have democracy and fundamental human rights. These bureaucrats of Islamabad, who take Gilgit and Baltistan as their colony, have many decades of experience in playing with sentiments of the people; and in imposing extra constitutional and extra judicial measures.

Even in 21st century they are not prepared to grant people their basic human rights, as in their opinion this is a conquered territory and they have no wish to conquer minds and hearts of people. They know people in this colony of theirs are divided and confused lot, and they are not even willing to protest, let alone challenge illegal and unconstitutional rule of Islamabad.

Government of Pakistan and even some local writers claim that people of this area acceded to Pakistan after getting 'independence'. One wonders independence from whom? After termination of lease of these areas on 1 st August 947, Brigadier Gansara Singh was appointed by the Maharaja Hari Singh as a Governor to take charge of these areas. He however never managed to take effective control of these areas as he was advised by the British chief of Gilgit Scouts (who controlled the areas) to wait and let situation settle down.

After this so called 'independence' when did people acceded to Pakistan? Was there any kind of referendum? Was there any elected body which decided that their future was safer with Pakistan? If the accession had taken place in November 1947, as it is claimed, then why there was need to sign the Karachi Pact in 1949 to take control of these areas.

And irony of the matter is that those who signed away Gilgit and Baltistan to Pakistan by signing the Karachi Pact had no legal, constitutional or moral right to do so. Chaudhry Ghulam Abbas and Sardar Ibrahim, both belonged to Muslim Conference, and this party has history of working for Pakistan and protecting their national interest. Muslim Conference had no branches and no members in Gilgit and Baltistan, and what right they had to sign away rights and liberty of these people?

Those who always sing laurels for Islamabad, even when they are using helicopter gun ships or F16 to 'discipline' people or implant imported enlightenment and democracy, are busy praising this LFO as a biggest reward for people of Gilgit and Baltistan. Reality however is contrary to these claims, as is the case when analysing most government claims. A Pakistani writer and columnist of famous Daily Jang, Abbas Mehkari wrote on 28 October 2007:

'For many decades after emergence of Pakistan a grade 20 officer ruled these areas like a colony. He behaved like a Viceroy and deprived people of basic human rights. Later on Ministry of Kashmir Affairs managed affairs of these areas and the Minister concerned hardly visited these areas and controlled matters from Islamabad. This LFO will not satisfy aspirations of 2.5 million people who have no legal or constitutional status. The area is not a province of Pakistan, it has no representation in National Assembly of Pakistan, it is not represented in Azad Kashmir Assembly and it doesn't have a self- rule.'

He further said, 'despite all the injustice and oppression people of these areas have been loyal, and they have not created any problems for Pakistan'. Abbas Mehkari, after showing his sympathy for the people of these areas concluded that how could a government grant rights to people of these areas which is no more than a colony when the authorities are not even prepared to give basic human rights to their own people - citizens of Pakistan.

The fact that Pakistani rulers want to deny their people rule of law and fruits of democracy it doesn't mean that they apply the same rule and deprive other people of basic human rights who are not Pakistanis. It also doesn't mean that these people (non Pakistanis) swallow every bitter pill thrown at them from Islamabad and still remain silent, as there is limit to human endurance.

History is witness to this fact that bureaucrats of Islamabad DO NOT learn from their mistakes and there are many reasons for this. The whole system is corrupt, and one corrupt cannot hold the other corrupt accountable. And over the past decades they have mastered the art of mismanagement, nepotism, oppression and corruption, in fact, corruption has become a profession and industry in its own right.

In this kind of environment Pakistani bureaucrats and agencies have developed habit of not accepting any mistakes they know they can get away with the biggest blunders one can think of; and one method is to divert attention by committing another blunder and people will forget the previous one. Apart from that because of their control in society, undemocratic practises and largely docile society, they feel confident that they can hoodwink people with new gimmicks.

It was with that in mind these bureaucrats of Islamabad are trying to sell old wine with new labels. Since ever when people of Gilgit and Pakistan made a mistake of requesting Pakistani government, in November 1947, for 'expert help' to run affairs of the government, they have been run either by a 'viceroy' of Islamabad or bureaucrats from there.

In all LFOs and administrative set ups Islamabad always ensured the following:

That a non local a Pakistani is at the helm of affairs, no matter what the administrative arrangements are;

That local people have no role in appointment or dismissal of this 'chief';

That democracy does not take roots in these areas;

That administration is not pro people rather it is pro establishment and pro Islamabad;

In all previous set ups people of the area have suffered and suffered immensely; and despite their suffering, they have not started any protest or militancy against those who have oppressed them for that long. At present we have a toothless Council with a local Deputy Chief Executive, who works under Pakistani Chief Executive. Deputy Chief Executive and all Council Members must get 'clearance' from agencies before they are 'elected' to this 'pious assembly'. Of course in this kind of administrative set up Chief Executive and bureaucrats have a final say in all matters.

Under the LFO 2007 this toothless council will become a 'Legislative Council', and

Deputy Chief Executive will be 'promoted' to Chief Executive, giving people this feeling that they have their own local man as a Chief Executive, but they might not fully understand that Islamabad have ensured that this new Chief Executive is subservient to a Pakistani Chairman, who would be a Member of Pakistan National Assembly and a Minister for Kashmir Affairs; and who, as previously, would rule from Islamabad. Being a Pakistani he would ensure that Pakistani interest is paramount.

Islamabad has been very 'generous' to give this 'Legislative Council' the following rights:

Right to discuss on the budget (it should be noted that the budget would be prepared by National Finance Commission of Pakistan);

Right to remove Speaker, Deputy Chief Executive and Chief Executive (which would further divide the people because of the system and communalism promoted there for some decades);

But they will not even have a right to give a 'dirty look' to the Chairman who will in practise be a 'boss' of this Legislative Assembly.

In conclusion one can say that Islamabad has once again ensured that its grip over these areas remains firm, and people are denied of their basic human rights. In Azad Kashmir they have allowed full infrastructure of an independent country (Prime Minister, President, Supreme Court, and separate flag etc, but have ensured their total control by appointing four Pakistani lent officers (Chief Secretary, IG Police, Finance Secretary and Administration Secretary who control affairs of the government. Apart from that they have Kashmir Council, which takes all major decisions regarding Azad Kashmir but is controlled by Pakistani Prime Minister and Six Pakistani members (appointed by Pakistani Prime Minister) who control Kashmir Council.

Gilgit and Baltistan have not even got what Pakistan has 'generously' granted to people of Azad Kashmir. But whatever little they have got as a result of this LFO is not because of Islamabad's 'generosity' or love for the people of this area, but because they were under tremendous pressure after Emma Nicholson Kashmir Report which was passed by the EU Parliament by a thumping majority earlier this year.

Islamabad has tried to show to the EU and other members of the international community that they believe in their own brand of 'democracy' and human rights, and they are willing to give this to people of Pakistan and people of Gilgit and Baltistan. But what they have given will not satisfy people of this area, as they know they are given old wine in new bottles; and it will not result in more political, economic, social rights for the local people. It will surely not improve status of women, stop violations of state subject law or deal with settlement of non - local people and their domination.

(Writer is Chairman Diplomatic Committee of JKLF, Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs and author of many books on Kashmir. He could be reached at: drshabirchoudhry@googlemail.com)


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