A Promising Start or mere eyewash?
On May 24, the long wait for full citizenship of Pakistan for the residents of Gilgit-Baltistan finally ended after the local government formally promulgated the Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018. The piece of legislation, which received presidential assent on June 01, replaces the Gilgit-Baltistan Self-Governance Order 2009. While spelling out the provisions of the Order, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, said the law would make GB government more powerful than other provincial governments and would grant similar basic rights to the GB residents without any discrimination.
A brief analysis of the Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 suggests that it devolves most administrative and financial powers to the area and guarantees its residents all constitutional protections, including access to regular courts. Under the new order, all powers exercised by the GB council, including passing legislation regarding mineral, hydropower and tourism sectors, have been shifted to the GB Assembly. Addressing the joint session of the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly and GB Council, the prime minister said under the Order, all powers would rest with the GB Assembly and there would be no discrimination between the fundamental rights, enjoyed by the residents of other provinces and those of the GB. He further said that under the new order, all the subjects, which had been devolved to provinces under the 18th Constitutional Amendment, would also stand devolved to GB. The Gilgit-Baltistan Council would only deal with the federal subject, having just an advisory role, not executive or overriding one.
The positive points of new order are that it has repealed 2009 order and annulled powerful Gilgit-Baltistan Council and powers shifted to Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly. Apparently, there is no role of Kashmir Affairs ministry as it is GB Assembly that is endowed with powers of legislation. Chief Court will consist of 7 Judges and will be renamed as High Court. Judges’ appointments will be made at local level. There will be Gilgit-Baltistan provincial service commission and a provincial Auditor General.
Till their appointments, the jurisdiction of Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) and Auditor General of Pakistan (AGP) have been extended to the region. Similarly, the jurisdiction of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) has also been extended to the area. Gilgit-Baltistan is being given the status of non-voting/co-opted membership in all constitutional bodies like National Finance Commission (NFC), Economic Coordination Committee (ECC), Council of Common Interests (CII) and Indus River System Authority (IRSA) although, this is not part of the order. There would be no discrimination between the fundamental rights being enjoyed by residents of the region and those living in other parts of the country. Judges of the High Court and governor would be appointed from amongst the local people, and the locals will be allotted a quota in the civil service.
One of the strongest selling points of the order is the dismantling of all federal taxes and bringing G-B on a par with the country’s four provinces – a much-desired objective in itself – under Schedule IV of the Constitution. Its assembly will also have same powers as those enjoyed by the four provincial assemblies of the country.
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