SC extends powers to Gilgit-Baltistan


— Order states 1973 Constitution cannot be amended without proper legislation


ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday ruled that its powers extend to Gilgit-Baltistan, as it heard a case pertaining to the constitutional status of the region.

The top court declared this extension of its powers as it issued written orders in a case pertaining to the constitutional status of GB and the fundamental rights of its citizens.

The written order added that no part of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan can be abolished or amended without proper legislation.

Earlier on January 7, a seven-judge larger bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar had reserved its verdict on 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.

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 help of a 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.

During the hearing on Thursday, the court clarified that no changes will be made to the status of GB and the Kashmir region until a referendum takes place to determine the constitutional status of these areas within a matter of 14 days.

Moreover, it asserted, the responsibility for giving rights to the people living in these areas falls on the shoulders of India and Pakistan, and Pakistan will fulfil its due share until the referendum takes place. Several administrative officers have already been allotted in the area under the 2018 Order, it added.

The Gilgit-Baltistan courts can review the legislative measures of the GB Council, but they do not hold any constitutional power in Pakistan, hence, the citizens will be able to challenge the appellant court’s decisions in the top court of Pakistan.

Suggesting possible changes that can be made in the presidential ordinance, the apex court stated that the president of the country can also enforce the Order if the federation proposes.

However, the court pointed out, the Order cannot be amended, and if the Parliament tries to make any changes to it, then they can be “examined on the touchstone of the Constitution”.

Then, the bench concluded that the people of GB are entitled to the same rights and privileges as the people of Pakistan.

After the court issued its orders, members of the Gilgit-Baltistan Bar Council thanked the chief justice and asked him for the order’s Urdu translation to also be released.