Islamabad: Pakistan’s Supreme Court has reserved its verdict in a case regarding the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and the grant of fundamental rights to its residents. A seven-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar took 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 chosen representatives, reports said.
The Gilgit-Baltistan Order, 2018 was earlier opposed by protesters from the region who demanded that the area should be declared a part of Pakistan instead of being administered through presidential orders. Pakistan has bifurcated occupied Kashmir into two administrative parts – Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Gilgit-Baltistan was treated as a separate geographical entity by Pakistan till now. Balochistan, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh are the four provinces of Pakistan.
India has termed as "entirely unacceptable" any possible attempt by Pakistan to declare the Gilgit-Baltistan region as the fifth province. India has also protested to China over the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which goes through Gilgit-Baltistan region. It is believed that China’s concerns about the unsettled status of Gilgit-Baltistan prompted Pakistan to change its status.
The federal government’s proposed reforms draft states that it intends to grant the region 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 states, the move would require an amendment in the Constitution, which needs a two-thirds majority in Parliament and "would take time". 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.
The Attorney General Anwar Mansoor told the bench that objections have been raised on the proposed draft in the Cabinet and therefore as of now, "it remains only a draft". He informed the court that the funds allocated for higher courts in the region have been transferred from the territory’s government to the GB Council. The Government of Pakistan can also increase the number of judges in GB, he added.
At this, the chief justice inquired what the procedure of the judges’ appointment would be. Mansoor responded that the GB council has been given the authority to legislate in this regard. Justice Nisar observed that an appeal cannot be filed against a decision of the GB Supreme Appellate Court in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The GB law minister during the hearing 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 to it’s [fulfilment]," he added.
Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan - a senior counsel who has also been appointed by the apex court as amicus curiae - 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 although Parliament may pass any constitutional amendment brought before it regarding GB, Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir would be weakened by making Gilgit-Baltistan a full province. After hearing all sides, the bench reserved its judgment and ordered the reforms committee to submit additional details after holding consultations regarding fundamental rights, legislation and judicial autonomy in GB.