Last week President Asif Zardari signed the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self Governance) Order 2009, aimed at introducing far-reaching administrative, political, financial and judicial reforms in the Northern Areas. The president congratulated the people of Gilgit-Baltistan on the realisation of yet another dream of emancipation. It will not be out of place for this scribe to mention that having had the honour of a close association with Shaheed Bhutto in the 70s and working with Shaheed Bibi from 1993 to 1995 as her press secretary as well as director general, PID Punjab, I'm an eyewitness of the vision and deep insight of the great leaders in the betterment and development of Azad Kashmir and the Northern Areas. Ive also had the opportunity to study the problems of the people of Gilgit/Baltistan while I was posted there in 1952-54. Recalling those days, I only wish that the Order signed last week, had been enforced in the 50s. It would have strengthened the democratic process and brought about a successful solution of the Kashmir problem according to the wishes of the Kashmiri people. This would have also brought peace in South Asia, perhaps making the war with India in 1965 irrelevant, and also the dismemberment of East Pakistan in 1971 would have been avoided as a result of better relations between the two countries. However, any reflection on the past cannot alter the course of history, but learning lessons from it can certainly reduce problems in the future. Some salient features of the Order, which I regard as historic in nature, are mentioned below. v The areas presently known as Northern Areas has been renamed as Gilgit-Baltistan. v It would now have an elected Legislative Assembly, which would elect the CM and a governor to be appointed by the president on the advice of the PM. v Gilgit-Baltistan would have its own Public Service Commission and an auditor general. v The chief judge of the Supreme Appellate Court shall be appointed by the chairman of the council on the advice of the governor. v Six ministers and two advisors will assist the CM elected by the Legislative Assembly. The Legislative Assembly shall have 24 members who shall be elected directly, besides six women and three technocrats. v Till the election of the Legislative Assembly, the Federal Minister of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas would be the Acting Governor of Gilgit-Baltistan. The above Order is a happy beginning which will no doubt be welcomed by the people who have been granted the virtual status of a province. However, it is also the beginning of a very difficult test for the government and the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs including the acting governor to bring the transition period to a smooth and successful conclusion, in view of the many irritants that certain vested interests in Azad Kashmir, Held Kashmir and elements in India who are bound to create hurdles in the granting of the new autonomous status to Gilgit-Baltistan, Ive no doubt that no such hurdle or conspiracy can stand against the will of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. The writer is the president of the Pakistan National Forum.