PM Abbasi announces GB Order 2018 amid protests, shutter down strike

  • Premier says legislation will give equal rights to people of region like other provinces
  • India summons Pakistani diplomat to protest against order changing status of GB

GILGIT: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Sunday announced the proposed Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) Reforms Order 2018 in Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA) while addressing a joint session of the assembly and GB Council, amid a complete shutter down strike and protests in 10 districts of the region against the legislation.

Members of the opposition, while registering a strong protest against the order, tore copies of the proposed bill and walked out of the assembly.

Opposition Leader Captain (r) Muhammad Shafi said that the region had been governed through orders for 70 years. “We need constitutional rights and not orders and packages,” he said.

There are 11 members in opposition benches, including members of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), MWM and Islami Tehreek, who later joined the protest gathering at Ittehad Chowk in Gilgit, where thousands of residents were protesting since last night.

Addressing the joint session, however, PM Abbasi termed the order one of the best legislation made for GB to bring it at par with other provinces. “Under this law, the residents of Gilgit-Baltistan will enjoy all those rights available in other provinces of the country,” he added.

He said that GB was given all legislative powers enjoyed by the other four provinces after 18th Amendment to the constitution. “I wonder why opposition parties are rejecting the legislation. The opposition members should have at least listened to us before walking out of the house,” the premier said, adding that his government had been working on the reforms for the last seven to eight months.

Under the new law, the governor will be elected from GB only and the region has been given the right to form its own civil service. The chief secretary, being the principal officer, will be powerful to decide about projects while the GB Council will now have only an advisory role.

Without admitting that the chief judge of Gilgit-Baltistan Supreme Appellate Court could be appointed from outside under this order, the prime minister said that the judges of the high court in the region will be appointed from GB only.

He praised the role of Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Baltistan Chaudhry Barjees Tahir for devolving various powers to GB which his ministry held previously. “Many people don’t want the powers to be transferred,” he said.  The premier also advised that the regional government should get maximum benefit from CPEC as GB is the gateway of the corridor and after its completion, it would be the most prosperous region in the country.

Moreover, the PM said that GB would also be given a quota in Pakistan’s civil service adding that from now, the chief secretaries would be given all powers so that the people would not need to visit Islamabad for resolution of their issues.

It was also announced that a single consolidated fund would be established and GB would have the powers to spend it for development.

The prime minister, who earlier launched three development schemes, two of those he said were lingering on for the last 10 years.

Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Hafeezur Rehman, in his address, thanked PM Abbasi and termed his visit a “milestone in the history of GB”.

Minister for Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan Affairs Muhammad Barjees Tahir and GB Governor Mir Ghazanfar Ali Khan also attended the session.

On his arrival to the city, the premier was welcomed at Gilgit Airport by the governor, chief minister and other high officials of the region.

Earlier, the premier had inaugurated the building of GBLA in Gilgit. The state-of-the-art assembly building has been completed at a cost of Rs910 million.

PM Abbasi visited Yadgar-e-Shuhada in Chinar Garden in Gilgit where he laid a floral wreath and offered Fateha for the heroes and martyrs of the liberation war of Gilgit Baltistan. He also laid the foundation stone of Gilgit-Naltar Expressway Road project which will be completed at a cost of Rs2.6 billion in three years and reducing travel distance from two-hours to half-an-hour, thus promoting tourism in the area when it will be completed.

The prime minister also laid the foundation stone of Gilgit-Baltistan Secretariat project.

GB protests against the order:

Thousands of people in 10 districts of GB protested against the order on Sunday claiming that the bill will take them back to the colonial era. The opposition parties including Awami Action Committee and multiple other bodies and association termed it a ‘black day’ saying that the new law was ‘anti-people’.

Protests were also staged near the assembly where slogans were shouted against the government.

Earlier on Sunday, when PM Abbasi arrived in Gilgit, the police sealed the roads leading to the assembly.

In his address to the protest gathering at Etihad Chowk, Leader of the Opposition in GBLA Muhammad Shafi Khan said, “Unfortunately, the prime minister visited Gilgit like Modi visited occupied Kashmir. The premier imposed the order just a few days before the end of his government despite knowing the aspirations of people and their opposition to the bill.”

The opposition parties have decided to continue the protests until the order is withdrawn.

Earlier on Saturday, a number of people were injured when police shot teargas shells and tried to stop the protesters from approaching the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly for a sit-in against the legislation.

Aerial firing by the police injured two opposition lawmakers, PTI’s Raja Jahanzeb and MWM’s Rizwan Ali, along with 12 other local leaders.

The protest across GB started on Friday in 10 districts including Gilgit, Skardu, Shigar Kharmang, Ganche, Hunza, Nagar, Ghizar and Astor of the region. The protesters rejected the bill and said that the region should be declared a part of Pakistan instead of being administered through presidential orders.

The parties comprising the combined opposition in the GBLA had given the call for protests.

According to opposition parties in GB and legal experts, the order, if implemented in the current shape, would do away with the little autonomy that was granted by the 2009 ordinance.

The proposed reform legislation gives overriding powers to the prime minister of Pakistan as it confers legislative, executive and judicial powers to the premier. However, the people of Gilgit-Baltistan don’t have any representation in Pakistan’s federal legislature and are, therefore, effectively deprived of any role in PM’s election in the National Assembly.

India summons Pakistani deputy high commissioner:

On the other hand, India summoned Pakistan’s Deputy High Commissioner Syed Haider Shah on Sunday to protest against the order changing the status of Gilgit-Baltistan.

India told the Pakistani diplomat that the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir was an integral part of India and Islamabad had no legal basis for its actions.

“Any action to alter the status of any part of the territory under the 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,” the Indian ministry of external affairs said.

Furthermore, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) termed the GB order as an insult to the people.

PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari took to Twitter on Sunday and said,” PPP will undo this undemocratic move that alienates the people and voters of GilgitBaltistan.”