That the announcement of the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order in northern areas by PM Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has been received with a mixed reaction should be no surprise. The cross-section of historical legacy with political imperatives provides the basis for the present controversy around the strategically important region that has common border with Afghanistan and Xinjiang region of China in the north of the country. However, seen in the context of long-standing struggle of the people of Gilgit and Balochistan for their fundamental, political and legal rights, the up gradation of the status of the northern areas under the Order is a new milestone in the history of the region, for which Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) can rightly claim credit. For, since the first PPP government led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took the initiative almost four decades ago to constitute northern areas out of Gilgit Agency, Baltistan District and the states of Hunza and Nagar, no government paid any attention towards redressing the grievances of the people of these areas. The region officially known as Northern Areas of Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan will have an area of 27971 square miles and a population of approximately 1,000,000. The region was a part of princely State of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) before 1947. This is the reason why the United Nations resolutions on Kashmir refer these areas as part of J&K for the purpose of determining its future through a plebiscite. But the people of Gilgit and Baltistan had never accepted the forcible occupation of their land by pre-partition Dogra rulers. In 1947, through a popular revolt against Maharaja Hari Singh, they got themselves liberated from the yoke of Dogra rule. The Mirs of Hunza and Nagar and other chieftains of the areas requested Pakistan to assume direct responsibility for the administration and security of the Agency. Pakistan agreed to their request, pending the settlement of the future of J&K, under the provisions of the Interim Constitution of Pakistan (1947-54), which allowed any "other area" with the consent of the federation to be included in Pakistan. Since then the people of Gilgit and Baltistan have been demanding a status for their region equal to other provinces of Pakistan. The successive governments of Pakistan, however, did not pay any heed to the popular aspirations of the people of these areas, who were groaning under the oppressive laws and regulations enacted and enforced during the colonial era. When a mass popular movement against the autocratic regime of Ayub swept the whole of Pakistan in 1968-69 and demanded the restoration of democracy, the people of Gilgit and Baltistan also organised a movement for their rights and voiced their demands for an end to the centuries old system of feudal slavery. This is to be noted that General Yahya Khan, who took over from Ayub Khan accepted East Pakistan's demand for one-man-one vote as the basis of 1970 elections and also agreed to the dismemberment of One Unit granting provincial status to Balochistan, but did nothing either for FATA or the northern areas, although both of these regions, like other parts of Pakistan, direly needed political reforms. When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto assumed power in 1972, the initiation of development works in FATA and introduction of political reforms in the northern areas were among the earliest measures taken by the first PPP government in response to the aspirations of the people of Pakistan expressed during the mass popular movement of 1968-69. Mr Bhutto was keenly interested in altering centuries old status quo in these areas and in order to bring it about he established personal rapport with the people by visiting these areas a number of times and by directly speaking to the people through public rallies. By empowering the people and their representative institutions in Gilgit and Baltistan, through the new Order, the PPP has in fact lived up to its traditional reputation of a party showing special care for the people of the underdeveloped and deprived regions. The new set up proposes to grant full internal autonomy to Gilgit and Baltistan by establishing a directly elected assembly with power to elect the CM and approve the annual budget. The assembly will have 33 members of whom 24 will be directly elected; while there will be six seats for women and three for technocrats. The Order has also expanded the list of subjects to 61 on which the assembly and the council will be competent to legislate according to their respective jurisdictions. There will be a governor, who will be nominated by the federal government. The Order provides that till the new set up is in place, the federal minister for Kashmir and Northern Areas would act as governor. The Order also proposes to establish a supreme appellate court headed by a chief judge, who will be appointed by the chairman of the council on the advice of the governor in consultation with chief judge. Thus, the Order, which will be sent to President Zardari for consent, has conferred all the trappings of a province on Gilgit and Baltistan without naming it as such. And there in lies the dilemma being faced by the Government of Pakistan and the source of much of disaffection and criticism coming from certain quarters, both in Gilgit and Baltistan and outside, against the Order. The people of the areas have made it clear many a time that they want nothing less than a full provincial status as part of Pakistani federation. They feel bitter that their demand has for so long a time been ignored; and are now unhappy that the Empowerment and Self-Governance Order announced by PM Gilani falls short of their long-standing demands. Some local circles have termed the Order as old wine in a new bottle, and claim that it contains nothing new and is an attempt to hoodwink the people of Gilgit and Baltistan. From the Kashmiri perspective on both sides of the Line of Control (LoC), the Order negates the commitments Pakistan made on Kashmir with the United Nations and administrative changes under it would undermine Pakistan's traditional stand on Kashmir as a disputed territory between Pakistan and India. The perspective is based on the contention that Gilgit and Baltistan is an integral part of Jammu and Kashmir and any change in its administrative status would betray a tacit shift in Pakistan's stand on Kashmir. Some people hold the view that the implementation of the Order would provide India a pretext to expedite the process of integration of Jammu and Kashmir into the Indian Union-a process that has already been under way since 1964 leading to a considerable erosion of Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. In response to criticism levelled against the Order from various quarters, PM Gilani has made it clear that the region cannot be incorporated into Pakistan as its fifth province because of the UN resolutions on Kashmir. At the same time he has asserted that there is nothing in the UN resolutions that restrains Pakistan from introducing reforms for ameliorating people's lot in the region. In fact the delay in the reforms would have led to disastrous consequences in view of the spread of Talibanisation in FATA and parts of NWFP province. The Empowerment and Self-Governance Order can insulate northern areas from the influence of extremists and militants. Neutral circles have called it a positive development. The Government of Pakistan has also asserted that the introduction of the new set up in no way would compromise Pakistan's position on Kashmir. The writer is a research fellow at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute.