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Voice of dissent: ‘Where is the empowerment we were promised?’

Source: Express Tribune

Lawyers in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) on Friday urged the Pakistan Army to fill the vacuum left by civilian governments and guarantee constitutional rights to the people of the region.

“It is about time the army steps in to provide fundamental human and constitutional rights to the people of G-B,” Advocate Shehbaz Khan, vice president of G-B Bar Council, told journalists at the Gilgit Press Club.

The Bar Council’s executive committee chairman Mir Akhlaq and chairman of the standing finance committee Javed Iqbal were also present on the occasion.

“Now the army is our last hope,” Khan said. “Over the past 60 years, we have tried in vain to urge governments to provide constitutional rights to the people of G-B.”

Islamabad has deceived the people of the region through the G-B Empowerment and Self Rule Order 2009, he added.

Khan said the G-B assembly had passed a law in 2010 regarding the appointment of a chief election commissioner. However, this was recently written off by an order issued by a secretary in the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs. “This is not the empowerment we were promised,” he said.

According to Khan, the orders issued from time to time by the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs regarding G-B are unconstitutional and also contravene Rule 20 of the Rules of Business 1973. He insisted lawyers would challenge these orders in the Islamabad High Court.

Akhlaq criticised the federal government for turning a blind eye to the region’s constitutional status and instead choosing to accept the demands of Baloch separatists.

Speaking on the occasion, he said there was widespread support among the people of G-B for the region to be granted provincial status. “I wonder if we must act like Baloch separatists for the rulers to address our grievances,” Akhlaq said.

In response to a question, Akhlaq said lawyers had not approached the Supreme Court of Pakistan to redress their grievances because they cannot afford the exorbitant fees of hiring a senior lawyer to fight their case.

The demands have been raised a month before the G-B government completes its five year term. After the government bows out on December 10, a caretaker government will take its place till elections are held next year.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 22nd, 2014.

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