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23 August 2019

No royalty, the bitter appetizer

By Quwat Khan Sunny

The federal Minister for communication has given a fatwa that Gilgit-Baltistan does not qualify for Royalty on Bhasha Dam, for Royalty is paid to a province not a territory that lies outside of the jurisdiction of the constitution. The minister further has boasted that the fate of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan would radically change in the coming decades.

Like most of the grandpas who always have bucketful of jokes to please the innocent kids, the federal pundits have great constitutional explanations to legitimize their injustices and to turn down the rights of the people. They always have been hungry for power and resources and have never been ashamed of repressing the weak. This has been witnessed for decades in this relatively lawless country.

Gilgit-Baltistan is contextually a weak territory and the pundits at Islamabad have gauged the weak nerves of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan in the last 63 years.

They know about this blasé nation which has been leniently living in the fantasy of packages, executive orders and support programs. An excessively harmless nation, that believes in the stroke of the pen rather than the smoke of guns, has got nothing to prevent any external strategic and economic venture — they know it.

They have found us trained subjects to their courts. They are aware of the comfort we have in their loyalty. They know the fact that we take pride in dusting the welcome mats of Wattos, Chaudries and Gojars of Lalamusa.  So why should they hesitate to pass their time playing around us and leech the great strategic and economic gains from the soil that belongs to none but the people of the region.

So we do not qualify for the royalty? Bravo!  Loot whatever you find in my house to feed your kids and pay me nothing, for your family rules does not allow to do so? Where did you get the sort of constitution that allows encroaching and confiscating somebody’s property and limits rewarding and compensating for what you exploit?  You must be playing with the emotions of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan as usual.

May be Mr. Arbab is a candid gentleman, surprisingly upfront to call spade a spade that Gilgit-Baltistan is a deprived and politically orphan territory where neither the constitutional regulations can be imposed nor the residents can be expropriated from their own resources. But he seems to have no problem dynamiting somebody’s yards to feed his voters in Punjab and Khybar Pukhtoonkhwa.  Thus his candidly posed personage is unverifiable.

A snagging question: why don’t they make Kalabagh Dam, a giant feasible project in their own province? It can irrigate their fields, quench their thirst and protect them from the devastating floods in much better way than Diamer Dam. Well, Raja Perveiz Ashraf has announced that “opposition from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Sindh and other stakeholders, the project was no longer feasible”

There you go; they do not want to displease their voters. They instead would snatch from the weak. They would loot the unattended free stuff like Bhasha or Sadpara. Pretty simple.

It is, however, ruthless to blame the constitution for everything that represents an ill intention. Gilgit-Baltistan has a great respect for the constitution of Pakistan not because it is their constitution but because they do not have one like that. There are people in Gilgit-Baltistan who read the constitution of Pakistan, despite the fact that it is not binding on them.

About the matter under discussion, article 161. (1) of constitution of Pakistan says, “Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 78 the net proceeds of the Federal duty of excise on natural gas levied at well-head and collected by the Federal Government, and of the royalty collected by the Federal Government, shall not form part of the Federal Consolidated Fund and shall be paid to the Province in which the well-head of natural gas is situated.”

Sub Section (2) further states, “ The net profits earned by the Federal Government, or any undertaking established or administered by the Federal Government from the bulk generation of power at a hydro-electric station shall be paid to the Province in which the hydro-electric station is situated.”

This, perhaps, is being referred by Arab Alamgir. It appears the article does not prevent to give royalty to the people of any territory where the resource is extracted. It, rather urges on the correlation between the natural resource and the original ownership that would be entitled to the royalty. Disproportionably focusing on the word, “Province” in the constitution entails a greed, ill-intention and injustice.

If constitutional experts take the province as it is, then the acquisition of land from a territory other than the province would be unconstitutional. It is the same constitution that stresses on the word “Province” when it allows acquisition of land for federal purposes.

Article of 152, under the head “Acquisition of Land for Federal purposes” sets out that “The Federation may, if it deems necessary to acquire any land situate in a Province for any purpose connected with a matter with respect to which [Majlis-e-Shoora (Parliament)] has power to make laws, require the Province to acquire the land on behalf, and at the expense, of the Federation or, if the land belongs to the Province, to transfer it to the Federation on such terms as may be agreed or, in default of agreement, as may be determined by an arbitrator appointed by the Chief Justice of Pakistan"

There is a big talk about the new great game in the region. We have to decide whether we want to be a party to the deal or a sandwich. Remember; most of the external activities in the region would be undertaken in a camouflaged style. “The destiny of the people of GB would be radically changed” is a peace time card stalking propaganda. Whispering no royalty means to serve a bitter appetizer.

Which article is being followed; the first one about royalty? Or the later about transferring the land on the terms agreed upon, determined by an arbitrator or Chief Justice of Pakistan?

Apparently no constitutional guidance is being followed but a word of choice (Province) that creates confusion and ambiguity paving the way to grab the free stuff, is being used to befool the innocent people of Gilgit-Baltistan.

If a constitution deprives someone of his rights (as Mr. Arbab states, it does), it is a constitutional error. It should be fixed before someone starts digging around holes.

The government of Pakistan got UK work permits to thousands of the people of Dadyal and Mangla to reciprocate their deprivation. As a result, most of the Pakistani community in UK belongs to Mirpur, Mangala or Dadyal who have a fair role in influencing the Kashmir cause internationally. One of them recently threw his shoe at the face of President of Pakistan in Birmingham.

Is there any plan to accommodate any of the Chilasies or people of Diamer in the similar fashion?  Who will guarantee to compensate adequately for the loss of businesses in the area of Bhasha Dam? Would the people of Gilgit-Baltistan be given free electricity forever?

Is there any plan to provide the best free water supply system in Gilgit-Baltistan and who will guarantee it? What employment (top to bottom) quota has been agreed upon in this project for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan?

This is a right time for the people of Gilgit-Baltistan to thoroughly determine and address the core concerns related to the project. The royalty denial issue should be taken seriously and be addressed promptly. Can a country construct dams in an internationally disputed region, is a question of great concern too.

All the modern economic deals and projects are undertaken by the parties with the simple WIIFM (what is in it for me?) premise. The people of Gilgit-Baltistan should be conscious of their rights and interests. They should maturely react to what is being said or done against their interests.  

Sitting cross-legged like very nice kids has so far earned us nothing but deprivation. We should at least nudge each other to save something for our future generations. The future of our generations wholly and solely depends on the energy resources and the strategic competitiveness.

There is a big talk about the new great game in the region. We have to decide whether we want to be a party to the deal or a sandwich. Remember; most of the external activities in the region would be undertaken in a camouflaged style. “The destiny of the people of GB would be radically changed” is a peace time card stalking propaganda. Whispering no royalty means to serve a bitter appetizer.

The writer is a regular commentator on current affairs in Gilgit-Baltistan.