People of N. Areas seek provincial status
2 September 2005
Islamabad: People of the Northern Areas predominantly want their region to be made the fifth province of Pakistan or be given at least an autonomous status like Azad Kashmir. This was reported by a fact- finding mission sent by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) to the restive region on its return here on Friday. HRCP Secretary General Syed Iqbal Haider, who was part of the 10-member mission, said at a press conference that it was strange that the region which was liberated by its people in an uprising against Dogra oppression at the time of partition and merged with Pakistan is treated by the Establishment as “disputed” territory. “It might be disputed in the eyes of India but there is no justification for Pakistan to term the area disputed,” said the mission’s report. Denial of constitutional status and rights was alienating the otherwise patriotic people of Northern Areas, Mr Haider said. A powerless Northern Areas Legislative Council was created under a Legal Framework Order issued in 1994 which has not legislated a single law since its creation. The present council is not complete even one year after its election as the 12 seats reserved for women and technocrats have not been filled yet, he said. While Minister for Kashmir Affairs acts as the Chief Executive of the NA, the HRCP official said, the chief secretary runs the administration in most arbitrary manner. Though sectarian violence, injected in the previously peaceful region from outside, worsened after the murder of Shia leader Agha Ziauddin last January, the Chief Executive did not bother to visit the affected areas. Nor did leaders of any political party, he said. Indifference of the authorities to the violence was exposed when rioters were allowed to burn down Shia and Sunni religious places situated on either side of the brigade commander’s house in Skardu during curfew hours, he observed. Ms Parveen Soomro, who studied the situation in Gilgit and Hunza, told journalists that Shias and Sunnis had such harmonious relations that at places they used to pray at the same mosque but outsiders poisoned the good relations. She said students of the riot-torn areas lost a whole academic year because schools and colleges were closed. What was worse was that untrained teachers were imparting education there and people were worried that the system was losing them their own language and culture. Ms Soomro said she found women councillors of the area demoralized and frustrated by the humiliating and obstructive attitude of their male colleagues. Two other members of HRCP’s fact-finding mission also spoke about the judicial system and the poor health and communications facilities in the Northern Areas. They said the people of Northern Areas demand that all laws of Pakistan should be extended to Northern Areas instead of present practice of the Kashmir and Northern Areas (KANA) division of the Pakistan government doing it selectively. Similarly KANA should be stopped from appointing the judges of the Chief Court and the judiciary made independent of the executive. Since a promise to give an appellant court to the NA has not been kept, the people want in the short term that the Chief Court be given powers of the high court and a bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan should occasionally sit in the region to hear appeals. They said there was serious shortage of proper health facilities in the whole of Northern Areas, particularly in areas outside Gilgit and Skardu. “Mother and child care centres set up under a World Bank loan remain largely dysfunctional.” They said people and refugees living close to Kargil wanted the road to Kargil to be opened to traffic and trade to facilitate family visits and availability of cheaper food items.