March 2006 News

Define boundary, constitutional rights of N.As: Before building Diamer-Bhasha Dam

11 March 2006
The Dawn

Islamabad: Opposition leaders of Gilgit-Baltistan have demanded that before starting work on the Diamer-Bhasha dam, the boundary of the region and the constitutional and political rights of its people must be defined. A delegation of the PML-N, Pakistan Peoples Party and Anti- Bhasha Dam Committee of the area which visited the Dawn office here with the demand said the 1.8 million people of the area should be governed by their representatives and not the bureaucracy as present. Islamabad’s rulers should implement an interim constitution unanimously approved by the NALC and submitted to the government in the area on the pattern of the one operative in Azad Kashmir and forge a broad consensus on the Diamer-Bhasha dam, said the leader of PML-N Northern Areas chapter Hafiz Hafeezur Rehman Khan. Mr Rehman, who is also a member of the Northern Areas Legislative Council, said the NALC was a hamstrung council. The people want it replaced by a power-wielding assembly, and the existing administrative judiciary by constitutional judiciary. Two years have passed since the present NALC was elected but the elections to the technocrats seats which need to be filled to complete the house, are being held now on March 22, he said. In the two years the NALC did not pass a single law as, he claimed, “all the legislative powers rest with the secretary, ministry of Kashmir affairs”. Resolutions passed by the NALC opposing the technocrats seats and calling for the right to move no- confidence against its titular head had been disregarded by the federal government, he said. In this connection he recalled the historic judgment of the Supreme Court of May 1998 which directed the Pakistani government to extend the same basic rights to the people of Northern Areas as enjoyed by other citizens of the country. He said the apex court had even fixed a deadline of six months for the government to do that, but instead of implementing the judgment, the government tightened its bureaucratic control over the areas. “Any legislation by the council which clashes with the LFO is referred to the federal government and to the federal cabinet where it is killed,” he said. There were 49 clauses in the LFO of which 21 were related to taxation. “The people of NAs pay almost all the federal taxes although there should be no taxation without representation,” he added. From the Sust Dry Port alone, the federal government has collected Rs1.9 billion and Rs600 million from peaks royalty during the last six months. “The federal government has not accorded constitutional status to the NAs but collects sales tax on consumers goods transported from the four provinces of Pakistan to Gilgit-Baltistan. Why?” Mr Khan asked. Though the people of the region liberated their territory to join Pakistan, the government regarded the Areas as part of the Kashmir dispute. But that should not make the government deny Gilgit-Baltistan the same constitutional status and autonomy as it accorded to Azad Kashmir, he maintained. According to the UN resolutions on Kashmir, he said, the Northern Areas should be given all their constitutional rights under an interim constitution. The total area of Gilgit-Baltistan was 28,000 square miles compared to Azad Kashmir which had an area of only 4,000 square miles. However, in Azad Kashmir, there was a constitution and legislative assembly, a prime minister and a president, but in the N.As there was no such process. Azad Kashmir had an annual development budget of Rs121 billion compared to Rs2.5 billion of Northern Areas, which showed that how differently the government was dealing with two areas with the same importance. Responding to a query on Diamer-Bhasha dam, he said, the government had not yet taken the people of the area into confidence on the issue. He said four dams could be built in the area with the capacity of 14,000 megawatt electricity generation. However, these project could not be implemented without giving the people their constitutional rights. He said Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz recently visited the controversial dam site but the people he addressed there were “rent-a-crowd”. He said NWFP had nothing to lose as the dam falls in the Diamer district of Northern Areas and would displace thousands of people there. Similarly, NWFP was a constitutional part of the country unlike that of the NAs. “How could the government start a joint project in two areas with different constitutional status”, he asked. Peoples Party Hunza chapter president Ghulam Mohammad said his party also wants constitutional and democratic rights first before construction of dam and 100 per cent royalty to the Northern Areas and compensation to the displaced persons. He questioned the viability of the dam as, according to experts, the site selected is situated in the Karakorams, the youngest mountains in the world, is a highly seismic zone. Anti-Bhasha Dam Committee chairman Haji Ghandal Shah, Gilgit Municipality vice-chairman Shakeel Ahmed was also present.


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