People of GB not satisfied with system of governance: HRCP
ISLAMABAD: A fact-finding mission sent to Gilgit-Baltistan by
the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has revealed that not a single
group or individual was completely satisfied with the Empowerment and
Self-Governance Order 2009.
The report of the commission,
‘Caught in a new great game?’, which was launched at a local hotel, recommended
that the prime minister, who heads the GB Council, should convene a meeting of
the council every two months and also consider delegating his power as the
chairperson to someone else if it was difficult for him to attend its sessions.
It may be noted that GB, known
until 2009 as Northern Areas, spreads over approximately 28,000 square miles
and borders with China, Afghanistan and the Indian-held Kashmir. It has been treated
as part of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir for 66 years even though the local
population insists that though history their region has had a status completely
distinct from Kashmir.
The HRCP sent fact-finding
teams to the area twice - in 2005 and 2013 - to ascertain the feelings of the
people about the working of the successive governments. The mission, which
visited GB from October 26 to October 30, 2013, consisted of HRCP executive
council members Ghazi Salahuddin and Roland D’Souza. They were accompanied by
Hussain Naqi and Najamuddin from the HRCP Secretariat.
Findings of the report
The report said a majority of
the people of Gilgit-Baltistan were frustrated for not formally merging their
area into Pakistan as a constitutionally recognised fifth province.
Many said if that was not
immediately possible because of the region being bracketed with the Kashmir
dispute, they would settle for a provisional provincial status until the
Kashmir issue was resolved. As a last resort, some suggested a governance system
similar to that of Azad Kashmir.
The 2009 Order was criticised
for not even being an act of parliament but a mere executive order and,
therefore, lacking due legal status. There was near complete agreement that the
dispensation introduced in 2009 did not give GB the status of a province.
The people of the area felt
that they should be respected for their forefathers’ struggle to liberate the
region. However, they felt disappointed that they were not given facilities and
rights available to people in other parts of the country.
Lack of proper governance and
widespread corruption were common complaints and it was alleged that government
jobs were being sold out. All those who alleged corruption in hiring mentioned
the same amount - Rs300,000 - as the cost of a government job.
The HRCP report also said the
people of the region believed that their issues did not get attention at the
The GB Council held only one
meeting in four years. Though rich in natural resources, GB has not done very
well in realising its economic potential. In the absence of industries,
unemployment rate is high.
The mission also found that
tourism had not been established as an industry and the little infrastructure
developed in the area was at the brink of destruction.
Though major incidents of
sectarian killings did not occur for a year, the people were apprehensive that
such killings could begin again any time.
The fact-finding mission
recommended that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan should be taken into confidence
regarding the reasons why their area had not been integrated into Pakistan. The
reform process that began in 2009 must not remain a solitary measure and
continue. If properly educated, the youth of GB could be an asset.
The quota reserved for students
from the area in the educational institutions of Pakistan should be increased.
Proper facilities, including transport, should be provided at the Skardu campus
of the Karakoram International University.
Transparency, particularly in
hiring of government employees, will go a long way in restoring the people’s
confidence in the governance system. Greater political participation for women
must be guaranteed.
The government should make
efforts to adequately compensate and rehabilitate the people affected by the
Attabad disaster and prepare a framework to prevent internal displacement.
The fact that none of the
culprits arrested for the sectarian killings has been sentenced so far is
causing an anxiety and suspicions among the people. The killers should be
punished and the victim families given adequate compensation. Full protection
should be provided to all those travelling to and from GB.
There is also a strong demand
for developing and implementing an effective mineral policy in order to
establish an advanced mineral industry that can provide jobs and multiply
earnings. Dams can be built to capitalise on the abundant water resources and
provide electricity to the region as well as other parts of Pakistan.
Senator Farhatullah Babar of
the PPP, who is also member of the Senate sub-committee on GB, said the area
people got freedom on their own and later decided to become part of Pakistan.
“But we have tried to repel
them, so the people of GB feel that they have been cheated. Unfortunately, GB
does not have representation in any important department such as the Senate,
National Assembly, Council of Common Interest,” he said.
“Even GB is not part of the
national or regional grid. It even does not have its own education board.
Whenever giving rights to GB is considered, an argument is given that the area
is part of Kashmir,” he said.
Senator Babar claimed that only
the PPP tried to empower the people of GB in 1994 and 2009. He said
recommendations of the HRCP report should be sent to the sub-committee of the
Barrister Mohammad Saif of the
MQM said the issue of GB was historically complicated.