BY QAISER BUTT
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at a recent public meeting announced formation of a committee on the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B).
It is the fourth such committee in 35 years. The prime minister held out an assurance that the committee’s recommendations will be implemented, but local political parties are sceptical as they believe it is a ploy by the ruling PML-N to win the upcoming elections in the region.
All previous committees had failed to decide the matter. The first committee was constituted by the then prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in 1975, the second was formed by military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq during his rule, while the third, a subcommittee of the Senate Human Rights Committee, was unveiled during President Asif Zardari’s tenure.
The third committee had been tasked to recommend amendments to the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order 2009 to empower the local populace under political expediency. The PPP government is said to have dealt with the issue halfheartedly.
The key demand of the G-B people is status of a full-fledged province but none of the three committees ever considered their demand and continued to linger on the issue with ad-hoc arrangements.
“The PML-N is also contesting the forthcoming elections for the G-B legislative assembly and the PM’s announcement has come right before the election scheduled for next month,” said Nawaz Khan Naji, the president of Balawaristan National Front (BNF).
The announcement should not be taken as a serious move on the part of the federal government, he told The Express Tribune, adding successive governments in Islamabad since 1948 had denied the people of G-B their economic, political and constitutional rights.
The Gilgit-Baltistan United Movement (GBUM) also rejected the committee. Its Secretary General, Shahzad Agha demanded formation of another committee that comprised local people and representatives of the G-B-based political parties. Let the people of this region decide their destiny themselves.
The president of the G-B chapter of Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) was of the view that the federal government was trying to hoodwink the people with such hollow announcements. He alleged that the present caretaker chief minister and the governor of G-B were appointed to rig the forthcoming polls.
Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, chairman of the Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) and Asad Umar of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) are also not convinced that the committee ould be of any utility. “I agree with the political leaders of G-B that the announcement by the prime minister is merely a political stunt. A government that continuously ignored people’s demand for the establishment of a FATA should not make tall claims about G-B,” Sherpao said. Islamabad has also failed to address such issues in Azad Kashmir, he remarked. “I don’t expect an early decision about the future status of Gilgit-Baltistan by the federal government,” Sherpao predicted.
Asad Umer also poured scorn on the committee, saying the move was aimed to win the G-B elections with false and fabricated promises. He was of the view that both PPP and PML-N are trying to exploit the people of G-B. - The Express Tribune