Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

Gilgit-Baltistan: The land of peaks, streams and disputes


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Gilgit-Baltistan Region, CPEC

Mains level: China's vested interests in the Kashmir Valley

Seven decades after it took control of the region, Pakistan is moving to grant full statehood to Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), which appears as the northernmost part of the country in its official map.

Try this PYQ:

Q. If you travel through the Himalayas, you are likely to see which of the following plants naturally growing there?

  1. Oak
  2. Rhododendron
  3. Sandalwood

Select the correct option using the code given below:

(a) 1 and 2 only

(b) 3 only

(c) 1 and 3 only

(d) 1, 2 and 3

Pak occupation of GB

  • During the first Indo-Pak war of October 1947, Pakistan occupied 78,114 sq km of the land of Jammu and Kashmir, including the ‘Northern Areas’.
  • The Northern Areas is the other name of Gilgit-Baltistan that Pakistan has used for administrative reasons because it was a disputed territory.
  • This November, Pakistan will pave the way for fuller political rights for the roughly 1.2 million residents of the region, which will become the fifth State of Pakistan after Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

GB through history

  • One of the most mountainous regions in the world that is rich with mines of gold, emerald and strategically important minerals, GB is known for its extraordinary scenic beauty, diversity and ancient communities and languages.
  • The political nature of Gilgit-Baltistan has been directionless from the beginning.
  • Pakistan initially governed the region directly from the central authority after it was separated from ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir’ on April 28, 1949.
  • On March 2, 1963, Pakistan gave away 5,180 sq km of the region to China, despite local protests.
  • Under Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the name of the region was changed to the Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANA).
  • Pakistan passed the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order in 2009, which granted “self-rule” to the ‘Northern Areas’.

Sense of alienation

  • GB is largely an underdeveloped region.
  • One of the main reasons for the rebellion in the region in 1947 was the sense of alienation that the population felt towards the Dogra rulers of Srinagar, who operated under the protection of the British government.

It’s geographical features

  • It’s home to K-2, the second tallest mountain in the world.
  • Tourism remains restricted by many factors, including military hostility, though the region has some of the ancient Buddhist sculptures and rock edicts.
  • It is also home to an old Shia community, which often finds itself subjected to persecution in Pakistan’s urban centres.
  • At present, a Governor and an elected Chief Minister rule the region, which is divided into Gilgit, Skardu, Diamer, Astore, Ghanche, Ghizer and Hunza-Nagar.

Indian protest

  • Following Pakistan’s announcement of holding the legislative election in Gilgit-Baltistan, India reiterated its territorial sovereignty over the region.
  • India has consistently opposed Pakistan’s activities in Gilgit-Baltistan. It also opposed the announcement of the commencement of the Diamer-Bhasha dam in July this year.
  • There have been local and international concerns as reports suggest priceless Buddhist heritage will be lost once the dam is built.
  • India has objected to the use of Gilgit-Baltistan to build and operate the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

GB resists

  • Gilgit-Baltistan in recent years has witnessed sporadic protests against Islamabad.
  • The protests were fuelled by the loss of land and livelihood of the locals to mega projects that are being championed by Pakistan and its international partners like China.
  • There is a growing feeling that full statehood will help the locals fight their battles inside Pakistan on an equal basis.
  • On the other hand, there is a widespread feeling that Pakistan, under pressure from China, is firming up its control over Gilgit-Baltistan, eventually creating conditions for the declaration of the LoC as the International Border.

China’s vested interest

  • Gilgit-Baltistan is important for China as it is the gateway for the CPEC.
  • Significantly, the ongoing stand-off with China at the LAC in Eastern Ladakh has a Gilgit-Baltistan connection.
  • The Darbuk-Shyok-DBO road of India is viewed as a tactical roadway to access the Karakoram Pass, which provides China crucial access to Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan.
  • Full statehood for the region may give Pakistan a political and legal upper hand and strengthen China’s position in the region.

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