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Merger of Gilgit-Baltistan into Pakistan – Ramifications

Sanjay Kumar writes: Pakistan is working on raising the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) region in a bid to provide legal cover to the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC),

Sanjay Kumar writes: Pakistan is working on raising the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) region in a bid to provide legal cover to the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), linking China’s western city of Kashgar to Gwadar, southern port of Pakistan  with a network of roads, highways, railways and investment parks.

The CPEC plans have been strongly criticised by India, with India’s Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj in June 2015 calling the project ‘unacceptable’ since it crosses through Indian territory.

The Pakistan’s move could signal a historic shift in the country’s position on the future of the wider Kashmir region. The proposal would see the mountainous region mentioned by name for the first time in the country’s constitution, bringing it a step closer to being fully absorbed as an additional province. Islamabad has historically insisted that the parts of Kashmir it controls are semi-autonomous and has not formally integrated them into the country, in line with its position that a referendum should be carried out across the whole of the region.

The G-B area of Jammu and Kashmir occupied by Pakistan covers 85,793 sq km. It was further divided in 1970 into two separate administrative divisions, Mirpur-Muzaffarabad (which Pakistan calls Azad Jammu and Kashmir, or AJK) and the Federally Administered Gilgit-Baltistan. G-B was earlier referred to as the “Northern Areas” in Pakistan. Both the regions have their own legislative assemblies and, technically, are not part of the Pakistan federation. Pakistan administers them through a special minister for Kashmir and joint councils. Pakistan maintained that Kashmir is a disputed region and that its status should be decided by a plebiscite under the UN resolution of 1948-49. Pakistan also illegally ceded the Shaksgam Valley, around 5,180 sq km, to China in a 1963 border agreement.

Pakistan has over the years neglected people of G-B and has persecuted Shias and Ismailis. It has increasingly favoured Sunnis with a view to gradually colonise the region. Gilgit and Skardu are inhabited by Shias, like Muslims in Kargil; they speak Dardi and not Urdu like Sunni Muslims of Shrinagar Valley. There is lack of infrastructure and economic development of the region, with per capita income of   G-B being one-fourth of Pakistan average.

Reportedly, the government of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) has decided to lodge protest against any attempt to convert G-B into a province of Pakistan. Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) Prime Minister Chaudhry Abdul Majeed has warned Islamabad against any attempt to convert G-B into a federal province. PoK President Sardar Mohammad Yaqoob Khan warned that such a step would be more damaging than the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971.The ministers are of the view that making G-B a province of Pakistan will dent the Kashmir cause. They maintain that G-B is part and parcel of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and any attempt to merge it into Pakistan will deal a fatal blow to their stance in the light of the UN resolution. They maintain that Pakistan has been given administrative control of G-B on a temporary basis only and Pakistan must not attempt to change its identity.

Pakistan over the years has realised that it has lost more in waging proxy war against India in the name of Jihad and is in the stage where its own created monster is getting out of hands and is creating havoc in its own country. This move of Pakistan could also indicate its desire to end the Kashmir conflict by formally absorbing the territory it controls. This would in a way give Pakistan legitimate right over the region and insulate it from interference of any country in future. Besides, it will gain immensely from the China’s CPEC project, which is must at this stage for its economic sustenance. The economic boost of the region can help keep away any threat of ISIS wave spreading into Pakistan through G-B. Pakistan will have to ensure that reasonable portion of CPEC benefits are enjoyed by the people of G-B, else it may derail the entire project.

India at this stage will have to carefully craft its way forward as it has political and strategic ramifications and more so at loggerheads. The separatists in J&K are silent on this move of Pakistan and may have to give up their demand of larger Kashmir. This provides India opportunity to assert greater control over Kashmir and even repealing of Article 370. This move of Pakistan will gesture alienation of itself from the Kashmiri movement, which can over a period of time help subside troubles in J&K. This in long run would facilitate India to settle long simmering dispute with Pakistan, including Siachen and enable it re-deploy its forces in the North-East. This would eventually result into stability of the region and provide India enabling environment for its economic growth.

 

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