Gilgit-Baltistan gets internal, political autonomy

29 August 2009
The News International
Asim Yasin

ISLAMABAD: The federal cabinet on Saturday unanimously approved the new Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Ordinance 2009 to give more internal and political autonomy to the Northern Areas. All the stakeholders were taken on board prior to getting the approval from the cabinet to give internal and political autonomy to the Northern Areas, which shall be now be called Gilgit-Baltistan, said Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani while addressing a press conference here on Saturday at the PM Secretariat after chairing a special cabinet meeting. Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira, who is also holding the charge of Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas, and Minister of State for Information Syed Samsam Ali Bukhari were also present during the press conference. When asked whether the political measures could affect Pakistans position on Kashmir at the United Nations, the prime minister said the Foreign Office was consulted on it and they have cleared it. Every aspect was taken care of, he added. He said the political leadership was also taken into confidence before announcing the measures that would empower the people of the Northern Areas. Presenting the salient features of the newly-approved Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Ordinance 2009, the prime minister said the new name of the Northern Areas of Pakistan shall be Gilgit-Baltistan as proposed under Article-2 (f). The cabinet decision will empower the Gilgit-Baltistan council and assembly to make laws. The subjects about which the assembly shall now have power to make law have been increased from 49 to 61 while the council shall have 55 subjects, he added. The prime minister said there will be a governor for Gilgit-Baltistan, who will be appointed by the president of Pakistan. He said till the election of the legislative assembly, the minister for Kashmir and Northern Areas will be acting as governor. There will be a chief minister, who shall be elected by the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly and will be assisted by six ministers with the provision of two advisers, he added The prime minister said the legislative assembly will have 24 members, who will be elected directly and in addition, there will be six women and three technocrat seats. He said in order to empower the council and the assembly on financial matters there would be a consolidated fund. He said the budget of the area would be presented and approved by the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly. The prime minister said the chief judge of the Appellate Court will be appointed by the chairman of the council on the advice of the governor, and other judges will be appointed by the chairman on the advice of the governor after seeking views of the chief judge. He said the number of judges will be increased from three to five. The prime minister said Gilgit-Baltistan Public Service Commission is also being established to further empower the people of the area. He said separate auditor general and election commissioner will be appointed. The prime minister recalled that late Prime Minister Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took measures in 1975, bringing in the first noticeable administrative improvement in the Northern Areas through the Northern Areas Legal Framework Order, 1975 and later Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto introduced major administrative, judicial and political reforms abolishing Jagirdari and the FCR in 1994. Answering a question, the prime minister said under the Constitution, the Northern Areas could be given the status of a province. But we have given them internal autonomy as per the Constitution, he added. Answering another question, he said Gilgit-Baltistan could not be given representation in parliament. Responding to a query, Minister for Information, Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas Qamar Zaman Kaira said the measures will now go to the president and enforced through a presidential order replacing the Legal Framework Order of l994. Some of the decisions would be implemented immediately while the remaining would be implemented after the promulgation of presidential ordinance, he added.