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As per media reports, Pakistani authorities have finalized a law to award provisional provincial status to strategically located Gilgit-Baltistan.
- Under the proposed law, the Supreme Appellate Court (SAC) of Gilgit-Baltistan may be abolished and the region’s election commission is likely to be merged with the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP).
- Gilgit-Baltistan is the northernmost territory administered by Pakistan, providing the country’s only territorial frontier, and thus a land route, with China, where it meets the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
- It borders PoK to the south, the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the west, the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan to the north, the Xinjiang region of China, to the east and northeast, and the Indian-administered union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh to the southeast.
- The territory of present-day Gilgit-Baltistan became a separate administrative unit in 1970 under the name “Northern Areas”.
- The territory of Gilgit-Baltistan is highly mountainous. Three of the world’s longest glaciers outside the polar regions are found in Gilgit-Baltistan.
- Biafo Glacier, Baltoro Glacier, and Batura Glacier.
- G-B Region also includes K2, the second highest mountain peak of the world
Brief history of Gilgit-Baltistan
- Was a part of J&K: Gilgit was part of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir, but was ruled directly by the British, who had taken it on lease from Hari Singh, the Hindu ruler of the Muslim-majority state.
- Gilgit Scouts rebellion: When Hari Singh acceded to India on October 26, 1947, the Gilgit Scouts rose in rebellion. The Gilgit Scouts also moved to take over Baltistan, which was then part of Ladakh, and captured Skardu, Kargil and Dras. In battles thereafter, Indian forces retook Kargil and Dras in August 1948.
- Pak enters into agreement with Azad J&K govt: Following the India-Pakistan ceasefire of January 1, 1949, Pakistan in April that year entered into an agreement with the “provisional government” of “Azad Jammu & Kashmir” (parts that had been occupied by Pakistani troops and irregulars) to take over its defence and foreign affairs. Under this agreement, the “AJK” government also ceded administration of Gilgit-Baltistan to Pakistan.
- Gilgit-Baltistan not recognised as a province: In 1974, Pakistan adopted its first full-fledged civilian Constitution, which lists four provinces —Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakthunkhwa. Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit-Baltistan were not incorporated as provinces.
- In 1975, PoK got its own Constitution, but it remained under the control of Pakistani federal administration and the security establishment, through the Kashmir Council.
- In 2009, Pakistan brought in the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order, 2009, replacing the Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC) with the Legislative Assembly, and the Northern Areas were given back the name of Gilgit-Baltistan.
- On November 1, 2020, observed in Gilgit-Baltistan as “Independence Day”, Imran Khan announced that his government would give the region “provisional provincial status”.
Implications for India
- The decision by Pakistan is likely to trigger massive outrage as it will have wider repercussions which will aggravate tensions already being played out in the east along the LAC (line of actual control) on the India-China border.
- The decision, is also an acknowledgment of the importance of status quo as far as territorial control of the two countries of various parts of the former state, as it existed in 1947 before Partition, is concerned. This has merely reinforced the point that the borders as they stand today between the two countries will not change and future modalities have to reflect that.
India has clearly conveyed to Pakistan that the entire Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, including the areas of Gilgit and Baltistan, are an integral part of the country by virtue of its fully legal and irrevocable accession.
- India maintains the Government of Pakistan or its judiciary has no locus standi on territories illegally and forcibly occupied by it.
- India regards Gilgit-Baltistan as Indian territory. A part of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan comprises a major chunk of the territory Pakistan occupied during its war with India that year. Gilgit-Baltistan together with Azad Kashmir is referred to by New Delhi as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK).
- According to the Indian argument, since Gilgit-Baltistan was a part of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, whose Maharaja acceded to India, it is legally India’s.
Significance of Gilgit-Baltistan
The region being a trijunction (located at the confluence of three geographical regions southern, central and eastern Asia), both in terms of political and geographical boundaries, makes it one of the world’s most significant geostrategic points.
- Military significance: In case of a two-front war against India, control over GB region is capable of drastically affecting and determining the outcome. An advanced Air Force base in GB can devastate the enemy’s confidence and steer the movement of conflict to India’s side.
- Rich in resources: Home to valuable earthy resources, GB is rich in minerals deposits. These include metallic, non-metallic, energy minerals, precious stones and different rocks of industrial use. The southern areas of this region have substantial deposits of nickel, lead, copper and zircon. In its northern regions, it contains deposits of iron, silver, gold, garnet and topaz. Almost all of its mining potential is untapped and capable of generating ample wealth.
- Strategic importance for India: The area’s strategic importance for India has increased in light of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor agreement, under which Beijing is investing hugely to develop the area as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, and the concerns of a two-front war after the standoff in Eastern Ladakh in 2020.
- Importance for China & Pakistan: For China, the $46 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a means to increasing its strategic presence in Pakistan and CPEC is part of a grand plan to enhancing influence through rail, road and pipeline connectivity to Central and West Asia while linking Gwadar to Xinjiang through Gilgit Baltistan. For this very reason, G-B region is critical for Pak as its sees it as a way to improve its economy. Without Gilgit-Baltistan, CPEC would not be possible.
As with any dispute, the only way to move forward is by communicating with each other to ensure mutual cooperation for collective development and progress. One thing that’s clear is that no country can afford to go to war to take control over Gilgit-Baltistan. So, here are few suggestions:
- Trilateral dialogue: India, Pakistan and China should begin a trilateral dialogue for dispute-resolution, cooperation and common development. The problems in Jammu and Kashmir have become trilateral in nature, especially after the India-China standoff at the LAC in eastern Ladakh. Therefore, the solutions to these problems, acceptable to all concerned, can only come out of a trilateral dialogue.