Northern Areas Odyssey
14 February 2004
Lahore: From independence until 1974, the Northern Areas of Pakistan laboured under the archaic British-designed FCR (Frontier Criminal Regulation). In 1974, PM Z.A. Bhutto abolished the FCR and introduced a supposedly democratic system by dividing the region into five districts, namely, Gilgit, Skardu, Ghizer, Ghanche and Diamer. That system too has, unfortunately, proved to be a major disappointment to the long-suffering people of the Northern Areas. At the time when the Northern Areas gained independence from the Dogra Raj of Kashmir through armed struggle, the leaders of the region sent a request to the Government of Pakistan for accession. Pakistan, instead of declaring the accession of the region, linked the issue with plebiscite in Kashmir and declared these areas a part of Jammu and Kashmir. It is a great injustice to the people of the Northern Areas that their legal status has still not been clearly defined, and this sorry state of affairs will persist until the Kashmir issue is solved, provided that that ever happens. Over five decades after independence, there is still no possibility of a plebiscite in Jammu and Kashmir under the United Nations, and as a consequence, there is no plan of action as well due to a total lack of vision regarding the prosperity of the people of the Northern Areas. As long as the Kashmir issue lingers on, the question of the legal status of the Northern Areas will remain unresolved, become intensified, and will eventually be a source of tension for the Government of Pakistan. The status of the Northern Areas has been discussed by policy makers of Pakistan on a number of occasions, but confusion remains as a result of the ambivalence created by unjustifiably linking the Northern Areas to the proposed plebiscite on Kashmir. There were two options which were discussed earlier: to declare the Northern Areas as a province or to incorporate it within Azad Kashmir. Both were not feasible, firstly because Pakistan's stance would be weakened on the Kashmir issue by declaring it a province and then the unwillingness of the Azad Kashmir Government high-ups to make the Northern Areas a part of Kashmir. Due to the Northern Areas' ambiguous political status, not only the legal fabric but also the system of local administration and judiciary have many flaws. Administratively, these areas have been treated in a very slipshod manner. In the absence of proper political representatives, bureaucrats have been all powerful in these areas. The federal Minister of KANA division at this time is chief executive, chairman Northern Areas and possesses all the establishment, finance and administrative powers. All the administrative functions are being run by the Ministry of Kashmir affairs and Northern affairs (KANA) in Islamabad through this one person. Although the deputy chief executive was elected by the members of Northern Areas Councils, he possess no powers. The advisors having the status of provincial ministers are also powerless and are compelled to visit the officers from patwari to high-ups for the solution of the problems of their voters. There is the post of chief secretary instead of chief commissioner and the post of IGP instead of DIG in Northern Areas. Without officially declaring it a province, a provincial setup has nevertheless been established in the Northern Areas. Interestingly the chief secretary Northern Areas is working under the secretary KANA division, who is actually the fountain of powers. Due to the formation of two secretariats the march towards progress slowed down because whenever a case was dispatched by the Gilgit Base Secretariat to Islamabad, the KANA Division reinitiated the case from section officer to secretary, and during the process a lot of precious time and resources were consumed. As far as the judiciary is concerned, its set up is inadequate. No Pakistani court has jurisdiction over the Northern Areas. In the Northern Areas there is a three-member chief council, but the rules of business of the chief court have not yet been approved. The chief court's members take individual hearings instead of operating as a full bench. Keeping in view the above problems, some suggestions for reforms in the present administration and judiciary, which may lessen the sense of deprivation from the people of Northern Areas, are given below: Administrative Reforms: ¤ Chief Executive will be local. ¤ All the local issues of Northern Areas should be solved in Gilgit Base Secretariat and strategic issues will be tackled by the Federal Ministry. ¤ Administrative and financial control should be given to the Northern Areas. ¤ The stronghold of the bureaucracy should be minimised by increasing the functions and powers of elected members. ¤ For smooth functioning in the process towards progress, there is a need for harmonisation within the bureaucracy of the Northern Areas and between the local bureaucracy and federal Ministry. ¤ Local officers should be promoted to key posts, which results in the promotion toward progress and the playing of the role of a bridge between the local masses and administration. To achieve this, the practice of deputing officers from the federal government to these areas should be discouraged. Judicial Reforms: ¤ There is need to revamp the chief court, after first creating a high court which will then operate beneath the revamped chief court. ¤ Chairman should be re-designated as chief justice. ¤ There is need for an appellate court to challenge the decision of the High Court. ¤ Judiciary should be immune from the bureaucracy. Their promotions, appointments and transfers should be transparent and should be determined by the judiciary itself instead of the executive. Along with administration and judiciary, there are some suggestions in relation to jobs and political awareness for these areas. There is need to establish a public service commission to eradicate the injustice to the people of the Northern Areas, which will promote competent candidates on the basis of justice and complete impartiality. Chief executive and chief secretary should be restricted from appointing any person upon the basis of their personal desires or inclinations. Political activities should be appreciated, visits of politicians and intelligentsia from other parts of the country should be encouraged, which will enhance the political activities and strengthen ties with other parts of the country. Political activity will reduce sectarian violence. Sectarian leadership will move away from extremism to moderation through political pressures instead of administrative means; therefore, the Government should appreciate the political parties, and so in this way national politics will be able to work by undermining sectarian politics, which will ultimately lead to the physical and intellectual development of these areas. The Northern Areas are an asset that should not be wasted. The Government of Pakistan should at least grant a Quasi-Provincial status to these areas, which will free the masses of the Northern Areas from the yoke of injustice and deprivation.