Islamabad, Publish Date: May 23 2018
Pakistan’s Cabinet was today informed that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan will have the same rights as enjoyed by the citizens of the other four provinces after the devolution of powers under a reform package, a move seen as Islamabad’s efforts towards incorporating the region as its fifth province.
Pakistan has bifurcated Pakistan administered Kashmir into two administrative parts – Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-administered 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.
“It (Cabinet) was also informed that with the devolution of greater administrative and financial powers to the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan, all the rights will be available to the citizens in Gilgit-Baltistan as available to the people in other provinces of Pakistan,” according to an official statement.
The Cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, was also informed that Gilgit-Baltistan Council will be retained as advisory body towards the functions of the Federal Government.
A committee headed by deputy chairman Planning Commission Sartaj Aziz prepared the package and it was already approved by the cabinet and National Security Council.
China’s USD 50 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes through the region.
It is believed that China’s concerns about the unsettled status of Gilgit-Baltistan prompted Pakistan to change its status.
Media reports had earlier said that Pakistan plans to elevate the constitutional status of the region to provide legal cover to the CPEC.
India has protested to China over the CPEC which passes through the region.
India maintains that any possible attempt by Pakistan to declare the Gilgit-Baltistan region, bordering the disputed Pakistan-administered Kashmir, as the fifth province is “entirely unacceptable”.
Earlier, officials said that President Mamnoon Hussain is expected to endorse the reform package.
They said that President Hussain will issue a notification to enforce the reform package for which the prime minister has also sent his recommendations.
So far there was no confirmation about issuance of the notification.
The Gilgit-Baltistan government promulgated the Gilgit-Baltistan Order-2018, which replaced the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order of 2009.
The Dawn reported that under the new order, all powers exercised by the Gilgit Baltistan council, including passing legislation regarding mineral, hydropower and tourism sectors, have been shifted to the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly.
Gilgit-Baltistan Adviser on Information Shams Mir said that under the reforms, all federal taxes had been suspended. Now the Gilgit-Baltistan people had all rights enjoyed by the people of four provinces of Pakistan, he added.
Gilgit-Baltistan Law Minister Aurangzeb Khan said all powers exercised by the four provincial assemblies under Schedule IV of the Constitution of Pakistan had been entrusted to the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly.
They said the chief judge of the Gilgit-Baltistan Supreme Appellate Court would be a retired judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the name of the Gilgit-Baltistan chief court had been changed to the high court and the number of judges had been raised to two on the demand of the lawyers’ community.
They said the last empowerment order guaranteed only 17 basic rights and that too were limited only to Gilgit-Baltistan, but now in light of the Gilgit-Baltistan Order-2018, a citizen of the area could demand his or her rights at any corner of Pakistan and had access to all apex courts of the country. PTI