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Fate of Gilgit Baltistan under CPEC

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The protection of political institutions is critical in determining both political and economic status of GB. As a result, political empowerment is imperative for the economic development of the region


With the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) progressing at full steam, the strategic significance of the region, in terms of trade and investment, has increased more than ever. The fate of Gilgit Baltistan is interlined with the Kashmir Issue in respect to the provision of constitutional rights and provincial autonomy. However, the current scenario is most likely to change because of the rising concerns of GB under the umbrella of CPEC. Two concerns, in particular, have been voiced by GB locals; one, the right to compensation for the acquisition of community land and two, constitutional rights.

Historically, on 1 November 1947, a joint revolt lead by the Gilgit Scouts, with assistance from local chieftains and volunteers, liberated 28,000 square miles area of Gilgit from Maharaja Hari Singh; followed by an unconditional accession to Pakistan. Moreover, the autonomous states of Hunza, Nagar, Ghizer, Ishkoman, Yasin, Punial and also subdivision of Chilas and tribal areas of Darel Tangir appealed for annexation to Pakistan. Given this, instead of implementing prevalent land laws of Pakistan, the Nautor Act of Dogra remained in force in Gilgit Baltistan.

Moreover, after the abolishment of princely states, the khalisa lands (government lands) were distributed among community members on the basis of their customary practice commonly known as “Hisa Raseedi”.

In 1974 Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto abolished the princely states and declared the lands as the property of indigenous people until Zia made amendments in 1978”, said Amjad Hussain Azar, provincial president of PPP-GB.

According to the Nautor Act 1978-80, “Nautor lands” are termed government property, which includes khalisa (land for cultivation) and barren line land. All barren line land in settled and un-settled areas was included in government lands. Ironically, the land that had not been made part of government land under Land Allotment Rules 1975 but had been shown as khalisa land during the 1916-1918 settlement records was stated as government lands too.

Since the Nautore Act counts community land in GB as Khalisa (government) land, people naturally do not accept this law since it does not recognise the rights of community land owners. Apart from this, the law itself is not in accordance with Islamic principles and constitutionally any law which is not within the jurisdiction of Islamic principles is un-acceptable. Considering this, it is a de-facto rule which is not legally justified.

On top of this, it is an unequivocal violation of Article 17 of UN Charter of Human Rights which states, “Everyone has the right to own, use, dispose of and bequeath his or her lawfully acquired possessions. No one may be deprived of his or her possessions, except in the public interest and in the cases and under the conditions provided for by law, subject to fair compensation being paid in good time for their loss. The use of property may be regulated by law in so far as is necessary for the general interest.”

Aforesaid in view, the present demand of repealing the Nautore is legitimate as it is against the proprietary rights of individuals.

Nautor Act is a black law, Amjad said. “PPP demands revocation of the Nautore Act to ensure protection of rights of land ownership by indigenous people”.

Initially under CPEC, the land required by the government for security and commercial purposes is approximately 12,000 canals and a half million canals respectively. The land required by the government comprises community land (Shamilat) and they want to acquire the land without giving compensation to the public under the Nautore Act, 1978.

It is to no surprise that the government might leverage this act as it offers no concept of community land.

Although, in the past, the Botokhel tribe of district Diamir once contended the government that they wouldn’t allot their tribal lands on the pretext of Nautore Rule in the case of Diamir Bhasha Dam. The PPP government withdrew from its claim in a case adjudicated in the competent court and provided a compensation of Rs45 billion to the indigenous people in spite of the existing Nautor Act.

“A precedent had been set before people and the government can’t turn a blind eye to their reservations pertaining to community lands,” said Amjad.

“A compensation of Rs2b is yet to be provided by the government for land used for extension in KKH 2007. So, that being the case, public concerns are rising and remain skeptical of government promises of compensation for the land taken for CPEC”.

Furthermore, Ata Ullah from Jamaat e Islami, who is also Chairman Gilgit Baltistan Council and ex-advisor to PM, said, “Land acquisition without compensation is not acceptable and thus the present government must come up with concrete measures like the PPP government in the past.”

Secondly, Gilgit Baltistan demands the government of Pakistan to determine its constitutional status. Although GB is given semi-provincial status under the Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009, it is deprived of the basic right to vote and representation in the constituent assemblies of Pakistan. And, certainly, this has given rise to identity crisis and a sense of political depravation among GB masses.

The Gilgit Baltistan council comprises 15 members, six of whom are directly elected through GB legislative assembly and remaining members are nominated by the PM, who is the head of the council. Other members include the federally appointed governor as vice-chairman and chief minister. Thus, the region’s legislative assembly is toothless since it is governed by the civil-military bureaucrats.

Also, it has no representation in the National Finance Commission. The National Finance Commission is constitutionally established which ensures equal distribution of revenues between the federal and four provincial governments of Pakistan.

“CPEC can prove to be an effective development project for Gilgit Baltistan only if we are able to negotiate our interests on our own terms rather than be dictated by the federal government,” said Zaighum Abbas, lecturer at Government University, and member of Young Reformers GB and Khudi, in an interview with DNA.

As a result, people of Gilgit Baltistan call for government attention to address their reservations for the smooth execution of the project. On the other hand, CPEC is a threat to India’s geographical and strategic interests, hence India’s assertiveness in laying claim in this region is deliberately increasing. These threats can be off-set effectively only by empowering all the country’s federal units, Gilgit Baltistan in particular.

“People of Gilgit Baltistan hail the idea of CPEC and are willing to give away the land if provided fair compensation,” said Jameel Ahmed, PPP ex-deputy speaker of GB legislative assembly.

In Pakistan the government acquires the required land under Land Acquisition Act 1894. According to this act, the government is obligated to provide compensation to the land owners for the acquired land. Similarly, government should acquire the land through the enforced Land Acquisition Act rather through Nautore Act in Gilgit Baltistan.

It is pertinent to note that all provinces recognise the rights of community land based on Shamilat e Deh Act. However, the community land in Gilgit Baltistan is considered as Khalisa Land (government land) under the Nautore Act.

“The government must acquire the land for CPEC through the Land Acquisition Act of Gilgit Baltistan and it shall introduce a Shamilat e Deh Act like other provinces,” Amjad stressed. “If the government fails to provide compensation, CPEC will become an international controversy and it will be a huge failure on Pakistan’s account.”

Gilgit-Baltistan is a pathway to CPEC, yet inhabitants of the region are devoid of the participatory development. The government must strengthen Gilgit Baltistan by granting provincial autonomy.

“As Pakistan’s stand over Kashmir Issue is not compromised by giving route to CPEC via Gilgit, consequently it will not be compromised by granting Gilgit Baltistan representation in the Senate,” said Jameel Ahmed.

The people are optimistic in respect to CPEC but they want to be a part of the decision making body to get maximum potential benefits.

The protection of political institutions is critical in determining both political and economic status of GB. As a result, political empowerment is imperative for the economic development of the region.

Zaighum emphasised, “Political development should precede economic development. Otherwise, people of Gilgit Baltistan will continue to be exploited due to consistent political disempowerment.”

Most importantly, all the opposition parties along with their supporters are defenders of the CPEC and want the issue to be resolved on a good note.

“We have no issues regarding China Pakistan Economic Corridor,” said Nawaz Khan Naji, Head Balawaristan National Front.

PPP along with the support of other political activists and leaders from the opposition party commenced a campaign as “HAQ E MALKIAT & HAQ E HAKMIAT” (Right to ownership and right to governance) on GB’s 68th Independence on the Karakorum Highway at Danyor. Since then, a series of protest processions have been observed in different districts of Gilgit.

“In April, PPP has planned to demonstrate a massive protest and will jam an area of 480km,” Amjad Hussain said.

Therefore, the government must aim to provide effective policies which will ensure the provision of the people’s delayed rights and status.

DNA repeatedly contacted relevant government authorities for comment, but no replies were received till this piece went to print.

KHADIJA ZAHID for pakistantoday

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