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Constitutional limbo: G-B lawyers vow to resist move to thwart reforms

By Shabbir Mir

GILGIT: Lawyers in Gilgit-Baltistan have vowed to resist any move to curtail powers of elected representatives in the constitutional reforms proposed for the region.

Speaking to the media on Sunday, G-B Bar Council Vice Chairman Shehbaz Khan said the legal fraternity will not accept a symbolic provincial status for the region.

The remarks come at a time when Adviser to PM on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz and his team are preparing to amend the G-B Empowerment and Self-Rule Order 2009. The committee – which also includes G-B Chief Minister Hafeezur Rahman – is expected to present the draft document to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif next month.

Roadmap

According to Shehbaz, the federal government should retain control over defence, foreign affairs, communication, finance and currency.

“The regional assembly should have jurisdiction over the rest of the affairs,” he added.

The lawyer insisted if G-B cannot be declared the fifth province of the country owing to the Kashmir dispute, it should at least be given provisional constitutional status.

“This can be done by amending Article 1(2) and other relevant provisions and clauses of the Constitution,” he said. “He said amendments in Articles 41, 51, 59, 175 will give G-B due representation in the National Assembly, Senate and Supreme Court of Pakistan.”

A delayed response

“Empowerment is right of the people of G-B,” Shehbaz said. “The region voluntarily acceded to Pakistan in 1947.”

According to the lawyer, reforms should pave the way for G-B to be represented in all federal constitutional forums and institutions as was done by India for occupied Jammu and Kashmir in 1948 and 1957.

“We will launch a legal battle across the country if the reforms aren’t genuine or do not measure up to people’s aspirations,” he added.

Last week, the regional government convened an all-parties conference in Gilgit to seek input from all major stakeholders in this regard. The conference was also attended by parties lacking representation in the assembly.

Parting ways

Shehbaz also announced his decision to part ways with Pakistan Peoples Party.

“After 40 years of association with the party, I have resigned from PPP with a heavy heart,” he said. “The decision is painful for me as I am one of the founding members of the party in the region.” Shehbaz joined PPP in the early 1970s while he was a student. He served as the party’s district president in Gilgit and later became its deputy general secretary.

“Today’s PPP is no longer former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s party,” he said. “The policies have changed and the workers are being pushed against the wall.”

According to the lawyer, he feels like a “misfit” in the party. “I thought it best to quit than to stay on without a purpose,” Shehbaz said. “I will decide my next step after consulting my friends. All options are open and I’ll make a decision soon.”

Published in The Express Tribune, November 30th,  2015.

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