Governance Crisis In Gilgit Baltistan

Governance Crisis In Gilgit Baltistan
After two years of battle with Dogras in 1948, the people of Gilgit Baltistan got independence and decided to join Pakistan. Since its independence from Dogra Raj, this area is facing serious governance issues. The 1951 Karachi pact between the Government of Pakistan and the Kashmiri leaders contributed immensely in today's governance crisis of Gilgit Baltistan. Moreover, this pact included Gilgit Baltistan as part of the disputed Kashmir region without the consent of local leaders.

After this event, the government of Pakistan appointed junior state officer as a political agent for this area who had the responsibility to control the administrative setup of Gilgit Baltistan. Due to a lack of knowledge about the vast spread areas of Gilgit Baltistan, the political agent introduced the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) under which the feudal system and taxation system were restored. Instead of introducing the proper governance framework, the government of Pakistan gifted the black law of FCR to the people of Gilgit Baltistan.

In 1972, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto visited Gilgit Baltistan as the Head of the State, he tried to resolve the administrative and governance issues of Gilgit Baltistan and also introduced some reforms. He annihilated the black FCR law and feudal system. He established a representative body to run the administrative activities of Gilgit Baltistan known as the Northern Areas Advisory Council. The council consisted of sixteen members which were elected through the election. Even though it was the first representative body of Gilgit Baltistan but this body had limited power. They could only approve the developmental schemes and the rest of the power was under control of the head of state of Pakistan. The formulation of the Northern Areas Advisory Council just created a ray of hope for proper governance set-up but failed due to the limited transfer of power to the council. During the Zia’s regime, the whole Gilgit Baltistan was brunt due to the sectarian war which caused no improvement in the governance structure o Gilgit Baltistan.

In 1988 when Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister of Pakistan, she formed a new governing body known as Northern Areas Council. In her second tenure, she introduced the Legal Framework Order (LFO) in which the name of the Northern Areas Council changed to Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC). The Northern Areas Legislative Council consisted of six members from every three divisions of Gilgit Baltistan and five reserve seats for women. The formulation of the Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC) also failed to give proper governance and administrative structure to the people of Gilgit Baltistan. Under this council, the Minister of Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan affairs became the Chief executive of Gilgit Baltistan and all the executive powers were shifted to the ministry.  Without sign or approval of the Chief executive, the council could not pass any bill or implement any laws. During Musharraf’s regime, the Northern Area Legislatively Assembly (NALA) was created and the power to amend the Legal Framework Order (LFO) was given to the Legislatively Assembly.

In 2009 when the PPP formed government at the federal, they introduced Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order 2009. The government of Pakistan decided to take some important steps to improve governance issues in Gilgit Baltistan some of them mention here.  Three new seats were created for technocrats and professional members in the Northern Area Legislatively Assembly (NALA).  First time in the history of Gilgit Baltistan positions of the chief minister and governor were created. Under this order, 61 subjects were placed under the jurisdiction of the Gilgit Baltistan assembly. In the name of empowerment and self-governance, Gilgit Baltistan Council was formed which consists of the Prime minister of Pakistan, six federal ministers and members of parliament elected by the PM, the CM and Governor of GB and six members elected from the Gilgit Baltistan Legislative Assembly. As this order was introduced for empowering and self-Governance of GB but in the order right to amendment in LFO was removed and more power was granted to the GB council as compared to the GB assembly.

As the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order 2009 failed to improve empowerment and self-Governance in Gilgit Baltistan, new presidential order named as Gilgit Baltistan Order was introduced in which all the executive powers of the GB council transferred to GB Assembly which includes legislation regarding hydro-power, minerals and tourism sectors. The Chief Court name changed to the High Court and the Council of Islamic ideology also extend to Gilgit Baltistan.  The status of the non-voting membership in different bodies such as NFC, ECC, CII and IRSA has also been granted to GB. But here again, in name of empowerment and self-governance, all the main powers are shifted to the PM of Pakistan even the people of Gilgit Baltistan cannot vote/elect the PM.

Now, the time has come to form a proper governance framework for Gilgit Baltistan. Every time the federal government introduces some presidential orders in name of self-governance Gilgit Baltistan without considering the perception of the local inhabitants. Due to increase awareness among the people especially among youth, the presidential order for self-governance in Gilgit Baltistan cannot work, even implement it. The perception of the local people should be given weightage if the federal government wants to give self-governance to Gilgit Baltistan. Whatever the choice made by locals for empowering and governing Gilgit Baltistan should be formulated and implemented, otherwise people will continue to protest about the issues like the January 2023 dharna, at -20 temperatures. The solution to all the problems and crises in Gilgit Baltistan lies in considering the perceptive of the local inhabitants and formulating a proper self-governance framework.

Wajhullah Fahim is a research student at the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), Islamabad.