Gilgit Baltistan: From Creeping Federalisation to Annexation by Pakistan?
Moving forward from the Gilgit Baltistan Order of 2018, Pakistan government based on directions of the Supreme Court is likely to formally annex the Indian territory through an act of parliament
Pakistan National Security Committee headed by the Prime Minister Imran Khan met on 22 May. Along with other issues purportedly related to regional security, a separate session was held pertaining to reforms in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan Ali Amin Gandapur and GB Chief Minister Hafiz Hafeezur Rehman were special invitees to the National Security Committee as they are not formal members of the same.
Issues pertaining to Gilgit Baltistan were related to implementation of judgement of the Supreme Court of Pakistan on 17 January 2019 when the Court sought the government to provide for rights of the citizens of the area expeditiously.
The Supreme Court held that the origin of the Kashmir Issue lay in the “accession of Kashmir to India by the Hindu ruler of a Muslim majority state, which was contrary to the expectations of the population and to the basis professed to be preferred by the British for accession by the Princely States.”
The Court contended without any sound evidence or basis that the people of GB sought to accede to the state of Pakistan and were denied the same by Maharaja Hari Singh’s instrument of accession signed in favour of India.
The Gilgit-Baltistan Order, 2018 was earlier opposed and a demand was made that GB be declared a part of Pakistan instead of being administered through presidential orders.
Thus accordingly the Supreme Court has directed that Gilgit Baltistan be incorporated as a province of Pakistan.
On 14 May the Government sought time for implementation of the Judgement, through the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas (KANA)
“For full and complete compliance with the directives of the Supreme Court, time be granted for the enactment of the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) Governance Reforms 2019 such that the federal government may table the bill before the parliament of Pakistan to bring necessary amendments,” the application by the Government of Pakistan pleaded.
The amendments to the reforms include appointments in the four-judge Supreme Appellate Court of GB to be nominated by the chief judge of the same court for a period of two years as against nominations to be made by the chief justice of Pakistan.
To decide on ruling of the Supreme Court a meeting of stakeholders was held on February 6, 2019, and reportedly a consensus was reached that the Gilgit Baltistan Governance Reforms, 2019 should be enacted based on aspirations of the G-B people.
It said as per the outcome of the said meetings, it is proposed that a bill be tabled before the parliament with the proposed amendments. The substantial compliance of the directions of the Supreme Court has been done and it would also fulfill demands of the G-B people.
The government has also shared amendments in the proposed order. It is stated that the aggrieved person will not challenge the G-B local court in the apex court of Pakistan.
Commenting on these developments, Dr. Aman Hingorani writes on 2 May 2019 that the Supreme Court judgement in the Civil Aviation Authority v Supreme Appellate Court Gilgit-Baltistan case, “is yet another instance of how Pakistan chooses to distort the Kashmir narrative for political expediency”.
The Court also ruled on whether, “—- granting fundamental rights and a status, role and recognition to the people of GB within the constitutional scheme of Pakistan prejudice Pakistan’s cause for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute by such appropriate means as may be acceptable to Pakistan (which could, for example, be a United Nations-sanctioned and supervised plebiscite)?,” and quoted 1999 decision in Al-Jehad Trust v Federation of Pakistan to direct that the people of GB are, “citizens of Pakistan for all intents and purposes”.
The Court has ignored as per Hingorani the subterfuge with which accession of GB was attained by British officers of Gilgit Scouts at the time of Partition on the night of 31 October 1947 even though the province on signing of the Letter of Accession by the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir became a part of India.
The ruling of the Supreme Court and Pakistan Government’s proposal for enactment of Gilgit Baltistan Governance Reforms 2019 is flawed in law.
India would have to closely follow the developments and proactively counter the same rather than awaiting the Pakistan parliament enact the bill as law.
With reference to the Gilgit Baltistan Order of 2018 Indian Ministry of External Affairs lodged a protest on 27 May 2018, stating, “It was clearly conveyed that the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir which also includes the so-called ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’ areas is an integral part of India by virtue of its accession in 1947. Any action to alter the status of any part of the territory under forcible and illegal occupation of Pakistan has no legal basis whatsoever, and is completely unacceptable. Instead of seeking to alter the status of the occupied territories, Pakistan should immediately vacate all areas under its illegal occupation. It was further conveyed that such actions can neither hide the illegal occupation of part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir by Pakistan nor the grave human rights violations, exploitation and denial of freedom to the people residing in Pakistan occupied territories for the past seven decades. Government of India’s consistent position in the matter is reflected in the resolution passed by the Parliament in 1994 by consensus”.
Quite apparently no cognisance has been taken by authorities in Pakistan of the Indian protest and the same has also not been brought to the notice of the Supreme Court during deliberations on the ongoing case.
A strong case has to be made by India to ensure that the creeping federalisation of Indian territories of Jammu and Kashmir occupied by Pakistan does not lead to annexation through a combination of the orders of the Supreme Court and legislature of the country.