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> Constitutional Arrangements of Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan need reforms, PILDAT Legislative Forum
   
 
PILDAT Legislative Forum
May 18, 2011
Islamabad


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Islamabad; May 18, In a PILDAT Legislative Forum on Proposed Constitutional Amendments in the Constitution of Pakistan 1973, for Empowerment of Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan, experts agreed that the current Constitutional Arrangements for Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan need reforms and informed deliberations and discourse should lead to creating reform options to be considered by Parliament.

 
 

The Legislative Forum was organised to initiate a dialogue on the proposed amendments in the Constitution of Pakistan so that the Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan enjoy equitable rights and facilities till the time a permanent settlement on the status of these regions is reached and the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir get their right of self-determination as provided in the United Nations Security Council resolutions. The Legislative Forum was participated by a large number of analysts and subject experts.

 
 

Justice (Retd.) Syed Manzoor Hussain Gillani, Former Acting Chief Justice of Supreme Court AJ&K, presented his discussion paper on the proposed Constructional Reforms. In his presentation, he said that Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan do not have any seats in the Parliament of Pakistan or in the institutions established by the Constitution for consultation and coordination between the Federation and its component units, such as the Council of Common Interests (CCI), the National Economic Council (NEC) and the National Finance Commission NFC). He said that until a final settlement of Jammu and Kashmir in accordance with UN resolutions, Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan should be accorded all the rights similar to other federating units of Pakistan in the interim, but without formally declaring them as provinces. “Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan should provisionally be given at least the same quantum of autonomy as given to the provinces of Pakistan”, he stated in his presentation. Suggesting few amendments in the Constitution of Pakistan, he stressed that these amendments would not affect the status of disputed state nor compromised Pakistan’s position on Kashmir dispute. “State is disputed but rights are not disputed,” he believed.

 
 

Commenting on the issue, Raja Farooq Haider Khan, Former Prime Minister AJK, said that powers given in article 31(3) should be given to Pakistan Government and rest should be given to AJK government. He said that there is a dire need to bring people of AJK at par with other citizen of Pakistan.

 
 

Gen (Retd. ) Muhammad Aziz Khan, Former CJCSC, was of the view that in principle maximum autonomy should be given to AJK and GB but we need to be careful that any constituional change does not affect legal status of Pakistan's case on Kashmir in international for a. He further stressed that any constitutional reform proposals should be vetted in detail by experienced constitutional lawyers of the country.

 
 

Similar points were raised by Mr. Sartaj Aziz, former Senator and Federal Minister, who sent in his written remarks on the PILDAT Discussion Paper stressing need of legal and constitutional scrutiny of any proposed reforms on the issue to avoid weakening Pakistan's case on Kashmir. He also in principle, favoured reforms for greater autonomy and rights for the citizens under the federal structure.

 
 

Mr. Asif Ezdi, analyst, believed that there is a constitution limbo in AJK and GB status. He said that these regions should be given representation in the Parliament and other constitutional bodies. He believed that with these amendments, the resolve to Kashmir cause would be strengthened.

 
 

Mr. Musharaf Zaidi, analyst, suggested that strategic calculus should be kept in mind whenever we discuss any constitutional, administrative or legal changes. Status of Kashmir is a broader policy question before Pakistan and should be discussed in a wholistic manner.

 
 

Mr. Inam ul Haq, former Foreign Minister, while commenting on the topic said that it is only in the ambit of the UN Security Council that Pakistan can stand internationally on Kashmir, although he believed giving greater autonomy does not weaken Pakistan's case internationally. He said that there is a need to encourage a wider debate on the constitutional arrangements regarding AJK and GB.

Mr. Ghulam Abbas, Editor Daily K2, said that UN Security Council doesn’t deny fundamental rights to the people of AJK and GB therefore these constitutional amendments should be considered. Federal Government needs to be shaken out of its apathy towards current insufficient constitutional status of AJK and GB and carry out reforms for enhancing citizens rights and representation within federal structure.

Ms. Amina Ansari, member Gilgil Baltistan Legislative Assembly, said that people of G-B are part of Pakistan who voluntarily joined Pakistan after liberating it. GB has its own distinct identity which should be recognised and respected.

Sardar Mohammad Anwar, former President of AJK, was of the view that Gilgit Baltistan is a part of the larger Kashmir under UN resolution. GB has never had a political system in place. Our contention was that giving provincial status to GB would lead to complications. He said that people of AJK voluntarily declared themselves to be a disputed territory so as to keep the claim alive on the Indian held Kashmir.

Mr. Haroon Khalid, politician from GB, commented that Gilgilt Baltistan is strategically most important part of Pakistan; therefore this region should be given its due importance.

Dr. Riffat Hussain, chairman Defence and Strategic Studies Dept. QAU, was of the view that any effort to empower people of AJK and GB would undermine India’s stance against us of not giving rights to those areas. He said that autonomy to these areas can not be achieved unless constitutional provisions are enforced in letter and spirit.

Mr. Khalid Sultan, former Chief Secretary AJK, said that the only way to protect the rights of AJK and GB is through amendments in the constitution.

Most of the grievances of AJK emanate from the role of AJK Council which needs to be reviewed, said Ms. Nasim Zehra, analyst. She welcomed the deliberations facilitated by PILDAT and believed greater public discourse is needed before introducing reforms.

Sardar Khalid Ibrahim, politician, was of the view that the spirit of the proposed amendments is not questioned but its timing is not appropriate and it will be harmful for Kashmir cause internationally.

Earlier, Mr. Ahmed Bilal Mehboob, Executive Director PILDAT, while introducing the forum, said that there is a need to discuss constitutional status of AJ&K and G-B region before it explodes into a crisis. PILDAT's objective behind facilitating this discussion is to initiate a much-needed informed discourse on the need for reforms in the constitutional arrangement for AJK and GB. A PILDAT Discussion Paper on the Proposed Constitutional Amendments in the Constitution of Pakistan 1973 for Empowerment as Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan authored by Justice (Retd.) Manzoor Hussain Gillani was circulated to participants ahead of the legislative forum and can be accessed here. The PILDAT Legislative Forum has been organized under project titled Electoral and Parliamentary Process and Civil Society in Pakistan, in partnership with the East-West Centre, Hawaii and supported by the United Nations Democracy Fund.