Constitutional status of Northern Areas undefined: HRCP
22 September 2006
The Daily Times
Lahore: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has claimed that the government has deliberately not defined the constitutional status of the Northern Areas as part of its strategy on Kashmir. In a report called A strong yearning for autonomy issued on Friday, HRCP stated that although the people of the NAs ought to be a part of Pakistan and wanted their area to be made a fifth province, authorities perceived that in the event of a plebiscite in Kashmir the vote of the people of the NAs could be crucial. The report, conducted by an HRCPs mission to the NAs, addressed various issues such as their constitutional and legal status, administration, police, jails, sectarianism, education, health, communications, womens rights, victims of the Kargil conflict, dams and electricity, bank loans as well as language and culture. The report stated that the Pakistani government avoided granting constitutional status to the NAs or let the people be represented in the federal or any provincial legislature and the reason behind it seemed to be Kashmir. It said, The Pakistani establishment believes that if and when the plebiscite under the UN resolution is held, the votes of the people of the NAs can play a decisive role because these areas were a part of the State of Kashmir under the Dogra maharaja. However, the report stated, tying the fate of the NAs to the Kashmir issue was against the rights and aspirations of the people because an overwhelming majority had been constantly demanding total accession with Pakistan and representation in the federal and provincial legislatures. It said, People in the NAs claim that they had fought and liberated themselves from Dogra rule, but were still being associated to the State of Kashmir by vested interests. The people claim that the NAs may be disputed as for as India is concerned, but there is absolutely no reason why Pakistan should call the NAs disputed. The report stated that the Indian constitution proclaimed the NAs as part of India and had reserved seats in both the lower and upper houses of parliament for them. On the other hand, the report said, although the NAs were not expressly mentioned in the Pakistani constitution, by virtue of Article 1 (2) (d) the NAs were treated as part of Pakistan for all practical purposes, but its people were denied representation in any Pakistani assembly. The report stated that there was consensus on the NAs be given constitutional rights and status under the Pakistani constitution and that the people of the NAs should be either given representation in the federal parliament as well as in the Frontier Assembly or the NAs should be given the constitutional status of a separate province of Pakistan. The report said, If, for some unknown reasons, the aforesaid is not possible, the NAs should be given an independent status such as Azad Kashmir. However, the people of the NAs do not want to be part of Kashmir although some people in Diamar district do want to join Kashmir because the majority in the NAs is Shia and if this area merged with Kashmir the Shia will cease to be in majority. Regarding governance and civil liberties, the report stated that in 1994 the Pakistani government, after intense criticism of treating the NAs like a colony, introduced the Legal Framework Order (LFO) that served as the constitution of the NAs. The report said, Even the LFO did not guarantee fundamental rights (as under the Pakistani constitution) and a judiciary to enforce them, while the chief executive (CE) of the area is the Kashmir and Northern Areas Affairs (KANA) minister who resides in Islamabad. There is an elected NA Council, but has no real legislative authority. The council elects the deputy chief executive who has no executive authority and it is only the CE who picks the ministers. The report quoted a member of the NA Council as saying that despite being a member of the council he was unable to see the CE and asking why a person from the NAs could not become the CE of the area despite universal consensus that the CE should be from the NAs. The report said, After the LFO, a chief court (CC) was set up consisting of a chairman and two members and has been granted the jurisdiction to enforce fundamental rights, but people and members of the bar in particular are sceptical of the courts ability to enforce fundamental rights because the CC is not fully independent. It said, The chairman and members of the CC do not have the security of tenure. It is further alleged that the task of writing the Annual Confidential Reports (ACR) of the chairman and CC members has been assigned to the KANA Division secretary. The fact that the ACRs of the CC members are recorded is enough to destroy the credibility and independence of the court. The report said, The NAs police is severely understaffed and under funded while the people of the area also ask why the inspector general has to be from Pakistan. Prisons of the area are in a pathetic condition; Skardu Central Prison consists of two barracks and has no water facility while the barracks, kitchens and bathrooms are locked after evening prayers. A 70-year-old inmate developed a skin disease and was checked by a team of doctors from Lahore, who advised jail officials to transfer him to a proper hospital, but he was not shifted. Office bearers of the NAs Pakistan Peoples Party told the HRCP mission that there was only one 50-bed hospital for two NAs districts since 1948 even though the hospital had space for 400 beds. They said, There is no female doctor in the area and people have to spend about Rs 45,000 to take patients to Islamabad. About the status of education in the area, the report said, There is a severe shortage of schools and colleges in the NAs, particularly of colleges and high schools for girls even in the urban areas. The NAs do not have institutions for technical-professional education and there is only one university, the newly established Karakoram International University, which is not fully functional yet. There was also a severe shortage of teachers. Similarly, the report stated, the freedom of press, communications, roads, bridges, traffics, natural resources, electricity, bank loans, language, culture, heritage and sports were being neglected. The report ended with recommendations for the government to follow: 1) The NAs may be declared as a special area, under an instrument of the federal government, with its own government, legislature, independent judiciary and guaranteeing the people certain fundamental rights that can not be taken away by ordinary legislation. 2) Even if the people of the NAs are not given representation in parliament, the NAs Council should be granted some legislative authority to begin with. The people of the area should be afforded some share in power, if not complete power. 3) An agent of the federal government can if necessary act as an impartial arbiter. 4) Participation in government would considerably decrease the sense of political deprivation and frustration that is currently fanning sectarian violence. It will broaden the vision of the local leaders and enable them to rise above petty sectarian issues. The man in the street will also get a sense of participation. 5) Administrators who view things differently and are concerned mainly with law and order are now dealing with sectarian clashes, but a democratically elected or representative authority would be in a better position to settle the issues. 6) A high court should be established with writ jurisdiction similar to that provided under Article 199 of the Pakistani constitution complete with jurisdiction to enforce fundamental rights provided under the instrument itself. Judges should hold tenure posts and should be free of all kinds of executive pressures. The high court should exercise control and superintendence over all subordinate courts in the NAs.