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Gilgit-Baltistan: The AQ Khan Proliferation Highway—Part II

(To be read along with “Gilgit-Baltistan: The AQ Khan Proliferation Highway” — Part I)

Between 1949 and 1974, the Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) was governed directly from Islamabad through Punjabi and Pashtun officers deputed from the federal Government services. In 1974, Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto gave it a facade of an autonomous governing set-up through an Interim Constitution. He called it an Interim Constitution because he contended that the Kashmiris would be given a final constitution after a plebiscite had been held under the UN auspices. Even now, it is ruled under this so-called Interim Constitution.

2. This Interim Constitution provided for a President of the POK as the head of State, a Prime Minister as the head of the Government and a Legislative Assembly consisting of 40 directly elected and eight indirectly elected members. It also allowed the POK to have its own national flag and to issue its own passports to its residents. The POK flag and passports were different from those of Pakistan. However, the POK passports were not recognised by foreign countries. The inhabitants of the territory, therefore, travelled with Pakistani passports..The Interim Constitution also provided for a POK National Anthem, an Election Commission, an Auditor-General, a Supreme Court, a High Court and subordinate courts.

3.The exercise of powers by this ostensibly autonomous set-up is strictly limited by the following provisions:

Only candidates, who sign a declaration that Kashmir is a part of Pakistan, can contest the elections to the Legislative Assembly. Under Article 32 of the Interim Constitution, the Legislative Assembly cannot make any laws relating to the defence and security of the territory, currency, external affairs and trade.

All important decisions of the POK Government, including appointments of Judges and senior officials, are subject to approval by a body called the Azad Jammu and Kashmir Council, whose Secretariat is based in Islamabad and functions under a Minister of the central Government designated as the Federal Minister of State for Kashmir and Northern Areas ( of Pakistan) Affairs. The Council is presided over by the Prime Minister of Pakistan and consists of five Federal Ministers nominated by the Prime Minister, the Federal Minister of State for Kashmir and Northern Areas ( of Pakistan) Affairs, who is an ex-officio member, the President of the POK and the Prime Minister of the POK, or in his absence, one of his Ministers. This Council was not given any jurisdiction over the NA.

4. Even this facade of a separate set-up was denied to the NA, which was incorporated into Pakistan as a centrally administered tribal area like the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) near the Afghan border. Like the FATA, the NA was also governed under what was called the Frontier Crime Regulations (FCR) framed by the British during the colonial days for dealing with what they looked upon as the criminal tribes of the areas bordering Afghanistan. The people of the NA were not given passports and were not allowed to travel or migrate abroad. Every resident had to report to his local Police Station once a month and all movements from one village to another had to be reported to the police station. Collective fines were imposed on entire villages for crimes or violations of law and order committed by individual inhabitants of the villages.

5. Till Octobrer 1994, the people of the NA had no right of adult franchise. The territory had no elected Assembly or even municipal councils and no representation in the National Assembly. Political parties were banned. In 1994, the Benazir Bhutto Government allowed political parties of Pakistan, but not of the POK, to extend their activities to the NA and set up branches there. The PPP, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML), the Muttahida Qaumi Party of Altaf Hussain, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Tehrik-e-Jaffria Pakistan (TJP), a Shia party, opened branches in the NA. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) encouraged the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), a Sunni extremist party which has been campaigning for the declaration of the Shias as anti-Muslim, to expand its activities in the NA to counter the activities of the TJP.

6. In October,1994, party-based elections to a 26-member council called the NA Executive Council were held. It was announced on March 31,1995, that its members would have the same status, emoluments and privileges as the members of the NWFP Legislative Assembly, thereby giving it a facade of a provincial Legislative Assembly, but, in reality, the Executive Council was given only recommendatory powers and not legislative powers. Five of its members were designated as Advisers to the Federal Minister for Kashmir and Northern Areas (of Pakistan) Affairs, Mohammad Afzal Khan. He told the National Assembly on March 26,1996, that the Advisers would have the same status and powers as the Ministers of the POK Government. Even the POK Ministers have very limited powers, but even those limited powers were not given to the NA Advisers. The Minister’s statement was just an eye-wash.

7. The NA continued to be ruled directly from Islamabad by the Minister of State For Kashmir and Northern Areas (of Pakistan) Affairs. with the help of six officers—-all non-natives—-deputed from outside. These officers were the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), the Commissioner, the Deputy Commissioner, the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), the Judicial Commissioner and the Chief Engineer, Public Works. While the posts of the CEO and Chief Engineer were generally filled by serving or retired army officers, the other posts were filled by officers taken on deputation from Punjab or the NWFP. There was no right of appeal against the judgements of the Judicial Commissioner. The Pakistan Supreme Court had no jurisdiction over him.

8. These so-called political and administrative reforms introduced by the Benazir Bhutto Government failed to satisfy the locals and to reverse the process of alienation of the people, which had started in 1971. ( 13-9-09) (Continued in Gilgit-Baltistan: The AQ Khan Proliferation Highway—Part III”)

( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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