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GB Order 2018 brings a new wave of demonstrations in Gilgit-Baltistan

Earlier this month, a much awaited but highly controversial governance order, Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 was promulgated in the de facto fifth province of Pakistan.

With the series of constitutional reforms in the country to bring the so called internationally disputed regions in a constitutional framework, the PML-N government has taken some bold steps in the last week of its tenure.

Among various legal reforms; FATA Reforms, Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan Reforms, the merger of Federally Administrated Tribal Areas in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwah Province (FATA Reforms) with a constitutional amendment has been observed as a landmark achievement of the out-going government.

The government also promulgated two such reforms in Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan but unlike the FATA reforms the others reforms lack constitutional patronage form the Parliament of Pakistan.

The Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 was approved on 21st May 2018 during one of the National Security Council’s meeting chaired by PM Abbasi in the presence of Chief of Army Staff and other federal cabinet members.

PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi during his address to GB Assembly stated:

“There was no need of constitutional amendment for this reform, an order was enough for the promulgation of new laws and we did that and if it would had been necessary we would had surely done that as we have majority in the parliament.”

The opposition parties in the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly raised serious concerns to new GB Order as the new order lacks any constitutional binding and called it a “black law”.

The opposition members of GB Assembly representing seven different parties have constituted an alliance along civil society organisations to protest against the new order.

The opposition members during their protest in front of Parliament of Pakistan in Islamabad collectively rejected the new order and demanded that either the new order should be approved from the Parliament of Pakistan by giving GB constitutional status having representation in the federal legislatures or otherwise GB should be given an autonomous status like the one the State of Kashmir enjoys due to its disputed status.

From the government’s points of view this is a “state of the art” legal framework for Gilgit-Baltistan as for the first time all the powers of legislation has been devolved to the Gilgit Baltistan Assembly, thus bringing it equivalent to other four federating units of the country(Punjab, Sindh, KPK and Baluchistan).

The opposition calls it a superficial devolution of power as according to the new order, the PM of Pakistan despite not being directly elected by the citizens of GB holds executive powers to veto any legislation approved by the GB council.

The article 41(Extent of Executive authority of Government) of the Order 2018 states, “Subject to this Order, the executive authority of the Government shall extent to the matters with respect to which the Assembly has power to make laws:

Provided that, in any matter with respect to which both Prime Minister and the Assembly has power to make laws, the executive authority of the Government(Govt of GB) shall be subject to, and limited by, the executive authority expressly conferred by this Order or by law made by the Prime Minister.”

Prime Minister Khaqan Abbasi in his address to the joint session of Gilgit Baltistan Assembly and GB Council stated that with promulgation of the new order, “today there is no difference in the right of citizens of Gilgit-Baltistan and other parts of the country. All the differences have been eliminated and this the fundamental change which we have brought to the people of GB.”

The opposition members staged protest in the GB Assembly and tore apart the copies of new GB order during the speech of PM Abbasi.

A huge number of protestors also gathered in provincial capital chanting slogans against the new order and shutter down strike observed all over GB on the call of Awaami Action Committee GB during the PM’s visit to Gilgit-Baltistan. Youth organisations, civil society members staged protest in Karachi, Islamabad and other big cities of the country to show their disapproval to the new order. The young social media users from GB also seemed highly furious against the new order.

The social media activists and different pages are running hash tag campaigns of #WeRejectGBOrder2018 on Twitter and Facebook.

The opposition members have announced to continue their demonstrations against the new order; in this regard the opposition members have announced to start a district to district campaign in all ten districts of GB to mobilize masses against the new governance order.

It is pertinent to mention here that with the passage of time the sense of negligence from the State of Pakistan is increasing among the masses of GB strengthening a genuine voice for the enactment of fundamental laws in a logically defined legal framework rather introducing mere governance orders which can be revoked by any PM of Pakistan using his executive powers.

One such order, Governance Order 2009 was also introduced during the PPP regime which came to end with the promulgation of GB Order 2018.

Former IGP Sindh and a vocal analyst on GB issues Afzal Shigri in his column in an English daily wrote that the new order is an effort to make the local representatives less powerful.

“The proposal gives GB representatives only the status of non-voting observers in the constitutional institutions wherein all major decisions affecting the populace are taken and the prime minister is entrusted with dictatorial powers of legislation without any legal basis sans accountability. Thus the whole charade is an effort to reverse the march of history to the dark era of FCR.”

The region is also considered as the neck of landmark project for China Pakistan Economic Corridor as GB provides only land connection for the country with the highly regarded neighbour China.

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