Empowering Gilgit-Baltistan or the Chinese bulwark. By Mazhar Iqbal


What necessitated Pakistan to give ‘greater political autonomy’ to Northern Areas, when such a move was urgently needed in Balochistan, where normal life is almost paralyzed after recent surge in violence and instability?
Islamabad’s recent maneuver to give “greater political autonomy” to the Northern Areas may aptly be considered a strategic move as it has been mentioned by daily Dawn in its recent publication.
The Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order-2009 is aimed at introducing administrative, political, economic and judicial reforms in the Northern Areas. According to this order, the Northern Areas would now have an elected legislative assembly, which would elect a chief minister, while a governor would be there to ensure the federal government’s control over the area. Gilgit-Baltistan would also have its own public service commission, a chief election commissioner and an auditor general. The chief minister would be assisted by six ministers and two advisers. The legislative assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan would have a total of 33 members, including six reserved seats for women and three for technocrats.
The package also validates a legislative council. The council shall enjoy the legislative powers over 60 odd subjects identified with municipal powers. The council shall have 15 members which shall be presided over by the prime minister of Pakistan. The acting governor is a sitting minister in the federal government. There would be a consolidated fund and the annual budget would be presented to the assembly and voted upon. Interestingly, the Gilgit-Baltistan empowerment package has no constitutional or parliamentary backing.
Without mentioning the Constitution of Pakistan, which is the foremost authority to deal with the political and administrative changes in the map of the country, the Gilgit-Baltistan package says the chief judge of the supreme appellate court would be appointed by the chairman of the council on the governor’s advice and other judges would also be appointed on the governor‘s advice in consultation with the chief judge. The number of judges would be increased to five.
Until recent, judicial activism was not active in the case of Gilgit-Baltistan. Similarly, there is also a very competent parliament working in the country, which is all set to discuss matters like Kerry-Lugar Bill or Musharraf’s treason case, because these are the hot-selling issues to knock out political rivals. But almost all of the political parties representing 17 crore population of Pakistan have shown no significant concern over hastily passed Gilgit-Baltistan empowerment order.
For mainstream political parties of Pakistan the Northern Areas, now called Gilgit-Baltistan, is no more than another pitch to prove their political muscles. The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party and Muslim League-Quaid, which is the brainchild of former president Pervez Musharraf, have already announced their candidates for polls to be held under Gilgit-Baltistan empowerment order. It means they have no concern about its legal and constitutional status.
The Muslim League of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) have also announced to take part in polls, giving mandate to the legal status of the newly adopted position of the Northern Areas. Ismail Khan, one of the well-informed journalists of a well-regarded English daily of Pakistan, who hails from Skardu in Northern Areas, has said in a recent article that there was no Karakoram Highway in 1947 and the water and power crises in Pakistan had never been so acute as now. Thus, he says, policy circles in Pakistan realise that in a region beset with conflict and intense competition, Gilgit-Baltistan is crucial as a trade, water and oil corridor for South, West and Central Asia.
Similarly, a number of political and strategic analysts have indicated that China has started exploring options for energy supplies from all over the world through easily accessible transportation routes. The historic Silk Route could yet again be the easiest accessible route for trade and energy supplies to and fro China. So, one of the options being considered by China is to move energy supplies from Central Asia and Middle East to Xinjiang through Pakistan.
In the meantime, President Zardari’s foreign tours have been widely criticized by his political rivals, but his supporters say he is actually exploring ways and means for Pakistan’s survival in the next century. He is particularly interested in energy supplies to Pakistan from some permanent sources. Recently, Italy's ENI has expanded its operations in Pakistan with a new onshore gas concession and is in longer-term talks to bring gas from the Caspian Sea region to Pakistan, India and China. The ENI currently holds 22 exploration and production licenses in Pakistan including 15 exploration licences, 3 offshore and 12 onshore. President Asif Ali Zardari recently met with the management of the ENI in Italy to finalise the details of the joint venture.

Pakistan expects that the ENI would double its investment in the country to around $3 billion by as early as next year. The ENI is looking for gas and possibly oil off Karachi's shores, and longer term aimed to bring gas from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and possibly Iran to Pakistan, India and China.
In a recent interview with Guangming Daily, one of the largely circulated newspapers in China, President Zardari, who is also co-chairman of ruling Pakistan Peoples Party, has said that during last one year Pakistan and China have identified more than 50 new initiatives for joint collaboration and signed more than three dozen MoUs. Of lately, President Zardari while addressing a business forum in Zhejiang, offered transit facility to Chinese companies, saying Pakistan’s ports would benefit Chinese firms by giving them easy access.Pakistan-China cooperation in hydel power generation has been on agenda of two countries since last many years. Chinese companies are already working on a number of hydel projects in Pakistan, including Neelum-Jhelum, Gomal Zam and Mangla dam raising project.
President Zardari also addressed representatives of Zhejiang’s 16 top business houses who earn a combined annual turnover of billions of dollars. He said it is his dream that Pakistan should become a gateway for Chinese exports to world markets because his country’s ports are nearer than China’s own water fronts. He was also quoted as saying that from some of the Chinese cities it took about three weeks for the export material to reach the nearest port. The latest developments on world energy scene are very interesting.
According to fresh estimates, landlocked Turkmenistan, holder of the world’s fourth- largest gas reserves, may become a key supplier to Europe. Similarly, a pipeline to China is nearly complete and a link to India through Pakistan and Afghanistan is planned.Turkmenistan now produces 40 billion cubic meters of gas a year. Yet, another interesting turn of the twenty first century global economy is placing China on forefront of the world economic matters. The future links of consumer markets and energy producing countries are now hot topics of defense and economic strategists of the world.
Peter Tertzakian, in Calgary Herald says that growth of natural gas in emerging transportation markets is intriguing and should even make oil guys wake up. For example, the growth rate of natural gas vehicles (NGVs) in Asia is quite remarkable and on an exponential up trend. “Also consider Pakistan where two million NGVs now compose a third of that country’s vehicle fleet. Of course, few are interested in Pakistan, because it’s ONLY 175 million people. Sure, China and India are the big markets to watch. The growth of NGVs is far faster than petroleum power, and is accelerating.” It shows that not only the Chinese economy is eying the world markets, but also the world markets are lying face down to benefit from Chinese wealth.
“The pace at which China is locking in energy supply deals seems to only be increasing. And it is effectively doing it without a single handshake taking place on US soil and without US oil,” says 24/7 Wall St, which keeps a vigilant eye on international investment horizon. “After reviewing some of the public deals that China has been making, it is rather obvious that its appetite to buy and secure more sources of oil and gas is not ending whether China is technically in the 2007 to 2009 recession or not.” The website, which gives updates on world economy on twenty four hours basis, further says that China has done all of this without launching a single air strike and without the use of military force.

(The writer is associated with Press For Peace (PFP) as Researcher. He could be reached at: mazharimazhar@gmail.com )

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