Supreme Court extends its jurisdiction to “Gilgit-Baltistan”
Delivering a judgment on January 17 on a set of petitions challenging the Gilgit-Baltistan Order, 2018 and Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment Order, 2009 and praying for the right of the citizens of the area to be governed through their chosen representatives, a seven member bench of the Supreme Court ruled that its powers extend to the so called ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’ (“GB”) also. The above impugned orders had been issued by the President of Pakistan, devolving certain powers upon the area. The Court approved the reforms draft proposed by the federal government, in which it stated that it intends to grant “GB” the status of a provisional province, “subject to the decision of the plebiscite to be conducted under the UN resolutions”, with all the privileges provided by the Constitution. The move, however, would require an amendment to the Constitution, which needs a two-thirds majority in the Parliament and would take time. Therefore, as an interim measure, the government proposed to give such fundamental rights to the “GB” residents as enjoyed by the people of any other province. While directing the government to issue the necessary order for the above purpose, the Court clarified that no changes would be made to the current status of “GB” and Kashmir and the constitutional status of these areas shall be determined “through a referendum”. It also observed that India and Pakistan are responsible for giving more rights to the areas under their control and “until the referendum happens, Pakistan is bound to give Gilgit-Baltistan as many rights as possible.” The people of “GB” will now be able the challenge the decisions of their appellate court in the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The ruling led to a number of protests by the “GB” residents on January 20 in Skardu, Islamabad and Karachi. They called for internal autonomy and pledged to oppose any executive order issued to govern “GB”. Local leaders of “GB” accused Pakistan of depriving the people of “GB” of their rights. In Islamabad, a multi-party conference of the “GB” residents issued a joint declaration rejecting the Supreme Court ruling and expressing their intention to launch a joint movement to secure the rights of the people of “GB”. They demanded that the elected representatives be empowered to deal with all the subjects barring foreign affairs, currency and defence and a separate Supreme Court be set up in the area. A meeting held by the Gilgit-Baltistan Youth Alliance in Karachi demanded, inter alia, that the policy of bringing about demographic change in the region through influx of settlers from outside, particularly Punjab, be put an end to immediately. Clearly, the steps taken by the federal government fall far short of the aspirations of the people of “GB”. Raja Farooq Haider, the so called ‘Prime Minister’ of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir called upon the federal government not to implement the above Supreme Court order and empower the “GB” legislative assembly in all internal matters.
India lodged a protest against the above order of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and reiterated that “the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, which also includes the so-called ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’ has been, is and shall remain an integral part of India. Pakistan Government or judiciary have no locus standi on territory illegally and forcibly occupied by it. Any action to alter the status of these occupied territories by Pakistan has no legal basis whatsoever.” India also rejected such continued attempts by Pakistan “to bring material change in these occupied territories to camouflage grave human rights violations, exploitation and sufferings of the people living there.” Pakistan was asked to immediately vacate all the areas under its illegal occupation.
Supreme Court upholds its earlier verdict acquitting Asia Bibi in the blasphemy case
The Supreme Court dismissed an appeal against its earlier order acquitting the Christian lady, Asia Bibi, of blasphemy charges, which had led to widespread protests across Pakistan, spearheaded by the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan. According to press reports, Asia Bibi left Pakistan to join her family in Canada. The decision of the Supreme Court did not result in any protests this time. The Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan leaders, including its head, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, arrested in November last year, remained under detention. Some opposition leaders alleged that the silence of Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan on the above Supreme Court decision is indicative of the fact that their earlier protests, particularly against the previous PML(N) government, were successful due to the tacit support of the security establishment.
Extension of term of military courts proposed
The Pakistani law empowering military courts to try civilians accused of terrorism (which had been enacted in January 2015 following the Pakistani Taliban attack on the military school in Peshawar resulting in large scale casualties) for a period of two years and extended for a further period of two years in 2017, expired on January 7 (though there were some claims that since the last extension of two years was given at the end of March 2017, the law would expire in March this year). It was reported that the PTI government had decided in principle to extend the tenure of the courts and would engage with the two main opposition parties- PPP and PML (N)- to build consensus on the issue. Political observers were of the view that the vote of the above parties on the proposed extension would be an indicator of how they propose to handle their troubled relationship with the military establishment. PPP, which had initially decided to oppose the move, changed its stance and agreed to hold talks with the government. It was reported towards the end of January that both PPP and PML (N) wanted Prime Minister Imran Khan to take up the matter with them, while the government was of the view that there was no need for the Prime Minister to get involved in the discussions on the issue.
FATF reviews the Pakistan case
Pakistan’s case came up for review at the meeting of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) held in Sydney, Australia in January. According to Pak media reports, the Pakistani delegation informed the meeting that there was no need to amend the anti-money laundering laws. They identified the Pak-Afghan and Pak-Iran borders as the key routes for terror financing and money laundering and claimed that a large number of transactions were identified. The Indian delegation filed a total of 28 questions, relating essentially to the action taken to block terror financing and the Pakistan delegation gave the assurance that a response would be provided at the next review meeting due to be held in Paris in mid-February. A more detailed examination of compliance by Pakistan with its international commitments will take place at another meeting to be held in May this year.
Indo-Pak relations- irritants continue
The Pak Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on January 21 that Pakistan had shared the draft of an agreement on the Kartarpur corridor with India through the Indian High Commission in Islamabad and had also asked India to urgently send a delegation to Islamabad to discuss and finalize the agreement. Separately, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs issued a press release on January 22 that pursuant to the decision taken by the Government of India to expeditiously realize the long pending proposal to establish Kartarpur corridor, India had shared the coordinates of the crossing point of the corridor with Pakistan and also proposed two sets of dates, February 26 and March 7 for the visit of a Pakistan delegation to New Delhi to discuss and finalize the modalities so that the Indian pilgrims could visit Gurudwara Kartarpur Sahib using the corridor at the earliest. Speaking a few days later, the Pak Foreign Ministry Spokesman described the Indian response as “childish”, adding that Islamabad’s reply would be “mature”.
Reports in the Afghan media stated that Pakistan had been preventing Indian cargo flights bound for Afghanistan from using its airspace. The reports mentioned in particular that the Pakistani authorities had denied permission to Spicejet cargo flights from India thrice in the last week of December and twice in January.
Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi called Mirwaiz Umar Farooq of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference at the end of January to brief him on “the efforts of the government of Pakistan to highlight the gross human rights violations” in Jammu and Kashmir and inform him about the events being organized in London, including at the House of Commons and an exhibition on February 4-5. The Indian Foreign Secretary summoned the Pakistan High Commissioner to convey the Government of India’s condemnation in the strongest terms of the “latest brazen attempt” by Pakistan to subvert India’s unity and violate India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity by none other than the Pakistan Foreign Minister. The Pakistan High Commissioner was also informed of the Government of India’s expectation to desist forthwith from such actions and cautioned that “persistence of such behaviour by Pakistan will have implications.” Separately, the MEA spokesman said that India had told the United Kingdom quite strongly that their territory must not be used for anti-India activity, conferences or rallies. The UK High Commission in New Delhi stated that Foreign Minister Qureshi’s visit to the UK in February was a “private” visit and there were no plans for meetings with the UK government during this visit. They also reiterated the long standing position of UK that it is for India and Pakistan to find a lasting political resolution to the situation in Kashmir “taking into account the Kashmiri people’s wishes.”
On the positive side, it was announced that India and Pakistan had agreed to the visit of a Pakistan delegation to some hydroelectric projects on the Chenab river on the Indian side under the Indus Waters Treaty. The visit took place from January 28 to 31.
February 11, 2019