ISLAMABAD: [Web-desk] Despite much deliberation that has consumed an entire year, the government has failed to reach a consensus of making Gilgit Baltistan (GB) the fifth province of the country and has instead opted to maintain the special provincial status accorded to the region.
Though final recommendations of a constitutional committee, formed by the prime minister, proposed granting GB the status of a special province with representations in the National Assembly and Senate, besides giving it share in the National Finance Commission (NFC), the National Economic Council (NEC), the Indus River System Authority (IRSA) and others, but the stakeholders could not approve the same due to objection on the part of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), reliable sources informed Pakistan Today.
All the stakeholders of this issue had, however, agreed on other reforms like giving more legislative power to the provincial assembly and authorities in light of the 18th amendment. “Excluding the posts of president and prime minister, almost the same setup that is being followed in AJK will be copied in GB,” the sources said.
A special meeting of Prime Minister (PM) Shahid Khaqan Abbasi with all the stakeholders was held at PM Secretariat on Wednesday, which was also attended by Prime Minister Azad Jammu and Kashmir Raja Farooq Haider, Federal Minister of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Baltistan Barjees Tahir, Gilgit Baltistan Chief Minister Hafeezur Rehman, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Law Barrister Zafarullah Khan, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Sartaj Aziz, Military Operations (DGMO) director general and other officials.
The meeting decided to give legal cover to Gilgit Baltistan Self-Governance and Empowerment Ordinance, 2009, through the parliament. Per the decision, the GB Self-Governance and Empowerment Ordinance, 2009, would be replaced by the GB Interim Constitutional Act, 2018, to be enacted by the parliament of Pakistan.
All legislative powers of provinces would be delegated to GB assembly along with all subjects of GB council. The council would be given a ceremonial status with only residual powers. Broad spectrum civil service reforms would also to be made a part of the act, including induction of GB civil service officers into PAS, OMG and PSP. One seat for GB is to be created/designated in FPSC to be filled by a retired officer of GB domicile. Development/non-development funds of GB would be released by the federal government directly to GB.
According to documents exclusively available with Pakistan Today, the special committee formed by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had proposed at least four seats in the National Assembly, including a special seat for women, and three seats in the Senate to be allocated for GB. Besides, it was also proposed that the provincial set up be given its due share and representation in NFC, IRSA and NEC.
The documents also showed that it had also been proposed to give all legislative authorities to Gilgit Baltistan Legislative Assembly, other than enumerated in Article 142 of the constitution. The special committee on constitutional package had also proposed a robust local government system in GB.
However, a reliable source claimed that irrespective of the final recommendations of the committee, the stakeholders could not reach a conclusion regarding making GB the fifth province of the country.
According to a statement issued by GB chief minister, the recommendations of the committee regarding further empowerment of GB were presented in the meeting at PM House today, which was approved with the agreement of all stakeholders. It was agreed in the meeting that the recommendation would be forwarded to the next cabinet meeting for approval, after which the same would be tabled in the National Assembly in the form of an act. “With the approval cabinet and assembly, the major demand of GB regarding constitutional rights will be resolved,” the statement said.
However, a source claimed that despite tall claims of the government of further empowering the region with the introduction of constitutional reforms, the exercise of the PM’s committee remained almost useless since it could not make a breakthrough regarding territorial status of the area.