Northern Areas Elections
15 October 2004
Lahore: THE results of the elections to the 24 seats of the Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC) must have come as a surprise to the ruling PML and MMA. The JUI which was supposed to have strong presence in Diamer lost the two seats it contested to independent candidates by a considerable margin. The majority of the seats have been won by independent candidates while the ruling party has secured only seven. If the PPP, which has bagged six seats, and the PML(N), which has secured two, could win over the independents, they could be in control of the Northern Areas' administration. Going by its track record, however, there is a likelihood of the usual backstage manipulations which will throw up a majority for the ruling coalition. This being an election year the PML had taken a number of measures during the last two months to consolidate its position. In June a development package of Rs 4.07 billion was announced for the region. In August, leading a delegation of the local PML leaders, Federal Minister for Northern Areas Dr Ghazi Gulab Jamal called on Ch Shujaat Hussain, who promised that the people's problems would be resolved and the area brought at par with the rest of the country. On the eve of the elections Senator Nisar Memon, who was also the party's chief organiser for the NALC elections, announced what was billed as a 'comprehensive package.' That all these measures should have failed to revive the fortunes of the ruling party or reduce the clout of the opposition is something the government needs to ponder. The package announced by Senator Memon contained major reforms. The most important is the announcement that an appellate court was being set up for Northern Areas. While this has been widely welcomed, the fact that it has taken the government five years to enforce the landmark Supreme Court decision has apparently not gone well with the voters. Other reforms include delegation of financial and administrative powers from Islamabad to the Northern Areas administration, the creation of the new district of Astore and a promise to establish a new all-weather aircraft service. The people of Northern Areas remained deprived of fundamental rights for 50 years after the creation of Pakistan. That the Supreme Court had to intervene on constitutional petitions to grant them these rights does not go to the credit of successive governments, be these civil or military, nor does the fact that it took five more years to implement a crucial decision of the apex court. While the Northern Areas have now been rid of a primitive system of justice and administration, it is a matter of concern that the FCR enforced during the colonial era still remains operative in other areas. The government would do well to discard the policy of doing too little too late and do away with the black law that violates basic human rights.