ISLAMABAD - Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Monday expressed concern over the dual stance of the government of Pakistan on legal status of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and observed that the government is taking dictation from someone else.

Justice Gulzar Ahmed, heading a seven-judge larger bench, questioned the federal government as to why the government is taking two stands on the issue and cautioned the government that it has to be clear in its own mind.

The bench was hearing the application filed by Federation of Pakistan seeking extension of time for compliance of top court’s January 17 verdict, wherein it had with some modifications directed the government to promulgate proposed GB Governance Reforms 2019 within 14 days.

Not only extension in the implementation of top court’s verdict, the government also intends to make fresh amendments in the said Reforms 2019.

Justice Ahmed observed that the government had a choice to promulgate the reforms through a presidential order but now it wants the reforms to be governed through an Act of Parliament of Pakistan adding that it is going on someone else’s dictation. He further observed that the bench desires the opinion of government.

The seven-judge larger bench observed that the application for extension of time is in fact a review petition.

During the hearing, the GB’s legal fraternity opposed the latest proposed amendments in the GB Governance Reforms 2019 and argued that the 14-day period has been lapsed and delay constitutes contempt of court itself adding that the application for extension is filed to avoid the contempt.

The reply filed by the counsel for GB’s legal fraternity Advocate Salman Akram Raja argued that the G-B Governance Reforms 2019 was approved by this court and it is appended with the government’s application seeking extension with very significant proposed amendments.

It further contended that the proposed amendments include deletion of the right of any person to approach the Supreme Court of Pakistan with respect to disputes or matters not exclusively in relation to or under the Reforms 2019 or any law made under the said law or with respect to G-B.

The top court through the reply is further informed that the protection against arbitrary changes to the governance framework for G-B under Article 124 of the Reforms 2019, as directed by the top court, is being proposed to be deleted.

“The intent to assume arbitrary powers without the oversite of this Honourable Court is patent. The proposed amendment is vehemently opposed.” 

Each of the changes proposed to Articles 82(3), 82(7) and 94(2) will have the effect of diminishing the effectiveness and independence of the judiciary in G-B, the reply added.

“In particular, the intent to deprive the Chief Court of Gilgit-Baltistan of the power to issue directions for the enforcement of fundamental rights is regrettable. The proposed amendment is vehemently opposed.”

The Supreme Court in its January 17 verdict had also ruled that no amendment shall be made to the said Reforms Order as so promulgated except in terms of the procedure provided in Article 124 of the same, nor shall it be repealed or substituting (as the case may be) the same being placed before this Court by the Federation through an application that will be treated as a petition under Article 184(3) of the Constitution.

The top court had further ruled that if the Order so promulgated is repealed or substituted by an Act of Parliament the validity thereof, if challenged, shall be examined on the touchstone of the Constitution.

The reply further contended that the federal government’s ground, regarding placement of Reforms 2019 before the Parliament of Pakistan, presented in justification of the delay in compliance of the top court’s January 17 verdict is entirely untenable.

It further contended that the appointment of the Chief Judge of the Supreme Appellate Court of G-B has been made without following the procedure mandated by Supreme Court of Pakistan in its January 17 verdict.

It is prayed that the actions that affect the composition of the judiciary of G-B may be restrained and set aside.

The larger bench while adjourning the hearing of the case till after Eid remarked that Attorney General for Pakistan should be present before the bench to assist the court in the case.