–Federal cabinet has raised reservations over GB reforms draft, attorney general tells SC
–CJP Nisar says even ex-Indian PM Nehru had accepted that ‘Kashmiris should get right to self-governance’
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Monday reserved its judgement in a case concerning the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and the provision of fundamental rights to its citizens.
A seven-judge larger bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar had taken up a set of petitions challenging the Gilgit-Baltistan Order, 2018, Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order, 2009, as well as the right of the citizens of the area to be governed through their elected representatives.
The Gilgit-Baltistan Order, 2018, was earlier opposed by protesters hailing from the Northern Areas who demanded the administrative territory be declared part of Pakistan. The GB is currently being administered through presidential orders.
During the hearing, Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Anwar Mansoor presented before the court a draft of the Gilgit-Baltistan Governance Reforms, 2018, which has been prepared by the federal government for political empowerment and good governance.
The proposed reforms draft states that the federal government intends to grant GB the status of a provisional province, “subject to the decision of the plebiscite to be conducted under the UN resolutions”, with all privileges provided by the Constitution.
However, the draft argues that the move would require an amendment in the constitution with the helo of two-thirds majority in the parliament, calling it time consuming. Therefore, as an interim measure, the government plans to give such fundamental rights to GB residents as enjoyed by the people of any other province, it says.
Top judge Nisar remarked that even former Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru had accepted that “Kashmiris should get the right to self-determination and self-governance”.
“The recommendations of the Sartaj Aziz-led committee are very close to this vision,” the chief justice added.
GB JUDICIAL MATTERS:
The AGP also informed the top court’s bench that the funds allocated for higher courts in the GB have been transferred from the territory’s government to the GB Council. The federal government can also increase the number of judges, he added.
At this, the CJP inquired the procedure of the appointment of judges. AGP Mansoor answered that the GB council has been given the authority to legislate in this regard.
CJP Nisar observed that an appeal cannot be filed against a decision of the GB Supreme Appellate Court in the Supreme Court, asking the government to look into the matter.
Moreover, the GB law minister stated that the region’s government desired the implementation of recommendations made by the Sartaj Aziz-led committee. “It’s [almost] impossible, but we have come very close,” he added.
Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan, an amicus curiae in the case, noted that the government has expressed its intention to first declare GB a provisional province, and later grant it the status of a full-fledged province.
He said the parliament is likely to pass any constitutional amendment brought before it regarding GB, however, “Pakistan’s stance on [occupied] Kashmir would be weakened by making Gilgit-Baltistan a full province.”
CABINET’S RAISED RESERVATIONS:
Also, AGP informed the court that the federal cabinet has raised objections over the GB draft by underlining the need of the constitutional amendment into the matter.
At this, Barrister Ahsan said constitution can be amended on a private bill by the member, but it would be better if the government move the bill.
“The federal government wanted an interim order to safeguard the fundamental rights of the GB people,” the attorney general stated.
After hearing all sides, the SC larger bench reserved its judgement in the case and ordered the reforms committee to submit additional details after consultations regarding legislation, fundamental rights and judicial autonomy in the administrative territory.
The petition in the case seeks to declare the SRO No 786 (1) of September 9, 2009, Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order 2009 as as illegal, unlawful and contrary to the May 1999 SC judgement in the Aljihad Trust case. It was amended lately in February 2015 empowering the minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas to act as the GB governor.
In December 2018, the Supreme Court had assured to announce a meaningful judgement to grant fundamental rights to the citizens of GB.