Padlock on freedom
By Dj Mathal
During the recent sitting of the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly (GBLA), its members demanded immediate abolition of the GB Council saying its formation and structure was against the very survival and independence of the house and a hindrance in transferring powers to the local population in a true sense. Under the GB empowerment and self-rule order 2009, the status of the council has been made more powerful compared to the assembly and it has all the administrative and financial powers.The construction of the council is such that out of the 12 members, six are locals and elected by the GB assembly while the remaining are handpicked by the centre and are non-locals. They are members of the National Assembly of Pakistan and have been elected to the lower house of the Pakistani parliament on tickets of the ruling party from the four provinces. The prime minister of Pakistan is its ex-officio chairman with Governor of GB as vice chairperson. The chief minister of GB is a common member of the council. The newly formed council is yet to hold its first meeting. The empowerment order 2009 under which all the current setup has come into being is not protected under any constitutional provision and, therefore, at any time the federal government can wrap it up. The people of the region have time and again pointed out that the package announced by the rulers was not meant to transfer real powers to the masses of the region rather a ploy to hoodwink the international community and perpetuate Pakistan's illegal rule in the region. Under the so-called package, the elected assembly has been made a dummy and powerless house and real powers have been vested with the council. Even the council has been given the power to levy tax on the people of the region. The ruling party has termed the package a revolutionary step to empower the people of GB and even is not ready to tolerate criticism of the package. It has been going all out to term those criticizing the documents traitors and punishing them with brutal state force. The PPP has been continuing the propaganda that under the package the area will see promotion of democracy and human rights in the region and the masses will be masters of their own destiny. But its claims became so much hollow very soon in the wake of the Hunza lake crisis with the elected members and the local administration unable to do anything for the affected people. Under the system, the post of a chief minister has been created but it has become clear now that he is totally a dummy figurehead with no powers of substance. It is the tradition of democracy the world over that elected members exercise their powers in legislation and formation of government. However, the ruling PPP in Pakistan which never tires of claiming to be the champion of democracy has given the region a system which is devoid of any semblance of democracy. It seems that the PPP had tried to occupy all the administrative organs of the region and plunder the resources with both hands. The people of the region are of the view that the formation of the council is nothing but to put extra financial burden on the area where the residents are already hit hard by inflation, unemployment and deprivation. It would have been suffice to give ample powers to the elected assembly to legislate in accordance with the socio-economic and political needs of the region instead of getting an extra supra house sit on top of the house. The hollowness of the system has come to the fore very soon and the members of the assembly have started raising voice against the council. The absence of powers with the local population was also felt strongly when the outsiders heading government key departments failed to understand the gravity of the situation in Hunza Nagar and could not take timely steps to lessen the sufferings of the displaced people. When a few loyal sons of the soil tried to voluntarily open the spillway, some armed Pakistani groups thrashed and humiliated them on the road that too in the presence of the dummy assembly members. Pakistan deliberately wants eviction of the local population from the region so that it can plunder the resources of the region by constructing small dams in all breadth and width of the region.It is a fact that due to political, ethnic and religious polarization Pakistan is not in a position to construct water reservoirs in its own soil and the case of Kalabagh Dam is one such example. As a result, it has been eying Gilgit-Baltistan in order to build large numbers of dams and also plunder other mineral resources of the region.As part of our national obligation we want to back the reservation of the members of the GBLA against the GB council. It is time we understood that the right to rule and decide the future of the two million people of the region should be rested with the local population. Therefore, the elected members of the house should fulfill their responsibilities keeping the national interest supreme. Without scoring political points, they should openly work for disbandment of the council because it is a big impediment in the way of gaining self rule and ensuring people's rights in the region. If the members of the house played their cards well in diminishing the role of the council it will be a giant step towards achievement of people's rights and also show their political maturity and quality of leadership.