A Comprehensive Note on Jammu & Kashmir
THE NORTHERN AREAS
The Northern Areas have no status. They are neither a province of Pakistan nor a part of "Azad Kashmir". They are ruled directly from Islamabad through a Northern Areas Council which is headed by Pakistans Minister for Kashmir Affairs. A chief executive, normally a retired Pakistani army officer, appointed by Islamabad is the local administrative head. The Northern Areas Council is headed by the Minister of Kashmir and Northern Areas and meets only when the minister convenes it.
This mountain outback has been split into five districts, viz. Gilgit, Skardu, Diamir, Ghizer and Ghanche. Its population of 1.5 million inhabits a vast area of 72,495 sq. kms. Sparsely populated as the area is, the ethnic groups are varied - Baltees, Shinas, Vashkuns, Mughals, Kashmiris, Pathans, Ladhakhis and Turks. It numbers many languages like Balti, Shina, Brushaski, Khawer, Wakhi, Turki, Tibeti, Pushto and Urdu.
The Northern Areas are a story of deprivation of a people and their land devoid of any development and denial of basic fundamental rights. There is no adult franchise, no assembly and the people have never participated in an election or sent representatives to the National Assembly. The prestigious Pakistani magazine the Herald has termed the Northern Areas "The Last Colony".
The literacy rate is 14 per cent for males and 3.5 per cent for women! There is just one doctor for 6,000 people. Piped water supply is non-existant. So is electricity for more than two thirds of the population of the area. Except for some brick kilns there is no industry in the area. An area of 72,495 sq. kms. had in 1993, according to the Pakistan daily, Muslim, (December 13, 1993), mettled roads extending merely to 162 kms.
There are only two colleges in the area. There is not a single polytechnic in this seventy thousand square kilometer land. The only paper K2 carries on its mast head the legend "Voice of a constitutionless land". There is no radio or TV station.
Seeing no economic prospects in Pakistan, the Mirpuris who inhabit POK migrated in large numbers to the countries of the West. But the people from the Northern Areas are not even afforded this concession. They need an exit visa for going abroad, which is given only in the rarest of cases.
The reason why the Northern Areas have been kept by Pakistan in its own bear-hug is unilateral ceding of an area 2,700 sq. miles to the Chinese through an agreement on March 2, 1963. The entire area belonging to Hunza, south of the Mintaka Pass, was handed over to the Chinese. The border agreement which related to the alignment of the entire boundary line between Chinas Sinkiang and the contiguous areas under the actual control of Pakistan was ceded: "The two parties have agreed that after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan the sovereign authority concerned will reopen negotiations with the government of the Peoples Republic of China on the boundary as described in Article II of the present agreement of Kashmir so as to sign a boundary treaty to replace the present agreement ......"
Had the Northern Areas had an elected assembly of their own, the above issues would surely have been discussed in the legislature there as well.
The Northern Areas have remained deprived of a High Court and of the facility of writ petitions against arbitrary State action. Even a death sentence is confirmed by the court of Judicial Commissioner. The Gilgiti cannot appeal to the Supreme Court. The Northern Areas have not had the benefit of any legislature or legislative representation for decades. Under Dogra rule, members from Gilgit and Baltistan were represented in the State Assembly.
None of the constitutions of Pakistan, adopted in 1956, 1962, 1972 and 1973 - recognised that Northern Areas are part of the Pakistan territories. Conversely, the 1974 Interim Constitution of POK also did not include Gilgit and Baltistan. This resulted in the passing of the Legal Framework Order which placed the Northern Areas under the total control of the Kashmir Affairs Ministry. In 1982 General Zia ul Haq proclaimed that the people of the Northern Areas were Pakistanis and had nothing to do with the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
A writ petition under Section 44 of the POK Interim Constitution Act of 1974 was filed by some residents of the Northern Areas. They jointly invoked the writ jurisdiction of the POK High Court claiming that the petitioners were bonafide citizens of the State of Jammu and Kashmir and hence eligible to approach the court for redress. They challenged the Pakistani view that the Northern Areas were not a part of Kashmir but were a part of Pakistan. They also contended that even the Sino-Pakistan Agreement of 1963 conceded that the Northern Areas were a part of the State of J&K. The Government of Pakistan took the specious plea that the Government of Pakistan "was not functioning or operating within the territory of Azad Jammu & Kashmir (and) as such it was not amenable to the jurisdiction of this court". Pakistan also denied the well-known Karachi Agreement of April 28, 1949 "whereby the administrative control of Northern Areas was delivered to the Government of Pakistan". The high Court of POK however decided that the so-called Northern Areas were a part of POK. Pakistan, of course, never implemented the POK High Court decision and had it vacated by the Supreme Court of POK which said that the POK High Court had no jurisdiction to issue any order giving the Northern Areas to POK.
In another case when the Al Jihad Trust and others filed a petition before the Supreme Court of Pakistan demanding that fundamental rights be accorded to them including representation in the Federal Legislatures and the right of self-determination, the Government of Pakistan held that the Supreme Court of Pakistan had no jurisdiction since the Northern Areas were not, in terms of Pakistans constitution, a part of Pakistan.
No political activity is permitted. Some political parties like the United Jammu and Kashmir Peoples National Party and the Balawaristan National Front and others have been raising the slogan of self determination only to see their demonstrations crushed and their leaders arrested. Demonstrations by students in Gilgit seeking employment have been crushed brutally. The Gilgit Baltistan United Action Forum for Self Rule has been demanding the right to self-rule under the UNCIP resolutions on Gilgit and Baltistan.