Brussels, Apr.10 : The controversial Legal Framework Orders (LFOs) imposed in Pakistan's underdeveloped and remote Northern Areas from time to time, should be abrogated immediately if the people of these areas are to be seriously helped, said Dr. Shabir Choudhry, Chairman of the Diplomatic Committee of the London-based Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).
Delivering a speech at a two-day Kashmir Conference organised by the International Kashmir Alliance (IKA) in the European Parliament on April 8 and 9, Dr. Choudhry called for the introduction of a system where democratically elected people could legislate laws according to their needs, and where a system of accountability and transparency is visible. Lampooning Pakistan governments of the past and the present for the dismal conditions prevailing in the Northern Areas, and particularly in Gilgit and Baltistan, Dr. Choudhry said Islamabad had acquired "great experience in violating and abusing laws" by introducing Legal Framework Orders (LFOs).
"Not only have they introduced many LFOs and ordinances for Pakistan, but they have also generously introduced many LFOs to Gilgit and Baltistan, and the last in the series was introduced in October 2007 by President Musharaf," he added.
"Pakistani authorities have hailed this as a big leap forward in empowering the people of Gilgit and Baltistan, but in practise very little has changed. So, one can rightly say, it is old wine in new and fancy bottles. People of the area have a local chief executive, but he will be subservient to the chairman who will also be Minister of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas," Choudhry said in his speech.
He also mentioned the enormous powers enjoyed by the chief executive such as him not being answerable to the Assembly or being impeached by it. Additionally, he had the power to veto any legislation passed by the Assembly, Choudhry added.
"The legal system prevalent in Northern Areas does not guarantee the protection of the basic human rights. Entering petitions against the executive are out of the purview of the judiciary. Thus, even when the government takes extra -constitutional step or acts in violation of rules of land, it cannot be challenged in the courts," Dr. Choudhry quoted Ershad Mahmood, a pro Pakistan Kashmiri writer and intellectual, as saying.
Describing the situation in Gilgit and Baltistan as a major constitutional and political problem, Dr. Choudhry further went on to say that this "last colony on earth" is legally, constitutionally and historically a part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, and presently under the illegal occupation of Pakistan.
During the course of his speech, he recalled the many instances when Pakistan Governments had contradicted their stance on Gilgit and Baltistan, and said that this exposed Islamabad's selfish motives.
Pakistan did not regard these areas as part of its territory, but because these areas are rich in natural resources and have great strategic importance, it did not want to lose control of these areas, he said.
"The total areas consist of approximately 72,496 square kilometres, and have always had pivotal strategic importance, as it is regarded as 'axis of Asia', where South, Central and East Asia converge. Both India and China regarded Gilgit and Baltistan as a gateway to Central Asia and beyond to heart of Europe along the ancient Silk Route," he said.
Referring to India's role on the Gilgit and Baltistan issue, Dr. Choudhry asked one question -- Was India not under any obligation to protect life, liberty and property of the people in the entire State?
He lauded the efforts of the International Kashmir Alliance and some other NGOs, saying they could "rightly take credit for highlighting the plight of these unfortunate people, and for helping to bring Gilgit and Baltistan on the political agenda."
Recalling Baroness Emma Nicholson and the EU's enormous contribution in highlighting the abysmal conditions in Gilgit and Baltistan by passing the EU Report on Kashmir last year, Dr. Choudhry said they had "made a very valuable contribution to the struggle of Kashmir by defining geography of the State to quash Pakistani propaganda on the issue of Gilgit and Baltistan; and by making an important distinction about right of accession and right of self - determination".
He also called for a bus service with Ladakh and the reopening of traditional trade routes that have forcibly divided the region and prevented people-to-people interaction.