From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Gilgit-Baltistan Region, CPEC
Mains level : China's vested interests in the Kashmir Valley
Pakistan government has recently announced that it would give the Gilgit-Baltistan region “provisional provincial status”. When that happens, G-B will become the sixth official province of Pakistan.
Tap to read more about: Reorganization of J&K
- 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.
- The region is an illegally occupied Indian territory as it was the part of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu & Kashmir as it existed in 1947 at its accession to India.
- To G-B’s west is Afghanistan, to its south is Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and to the east J&K.
Its current status
- Though Pakistan, like India, links G-B’s fate to that of Kashmir, its administrative arrangements are different from those in PoK.
- While PoK has its own Constitution that sets out its powers and their limits vis-à-vis Pakistan, G-B has been ruled mostly by executive fiat.
- Until 2009, the region was simply called Northern Areas.
- It had a Northern Areas Legislative Council with the Legislative Assembly. The NALC was an elected body, but had no more than an advisory role to the Islamabad.
Why the separate status?
- Pakistan’s separate arrangement with G-B goes back to the circumstances under which it came to administer it. On November 1 1947, after J&K ruler Hari Singh had signed the Instrument of Accession with India.
- Gilgit had been leased to the British by Hari Singh in 1935. The British returned it in August 1947.
- Pakistan did not accept G-B’s accession although it took administrative control of the territory.
- India went to the UN and a series of resolutions were passed in the Security Council on the situation in Kashmir.
- Pakistan believed that neither G-B nor PoK should be annexed to Pakistan, as this could undermine the international case for a plebiscite in Kashmir.
- It also reckons that in the event a plebiscite ever takes place in Kashmir, votes in G-B will be important too. This is why it is only being called “provisional” provincial status.
Move for a status-quo?
- The plan to grant G-B provincial status is linked to CPEC and Chinese interest as well as a response to India’s abrogation of Art. 370.
- While India has objected to the plan to make G-B a province of Pakistan and in the recent past asserted that it will take control of G-B, there is a realization that it is impossible to change the map now.
- In this sense, it can be argued that the merger of G-B with Pakistan is a move that could help both countries put the past behind and move forward on the Kashmir issue, sometime in the future.
What do the people in G-B want?
- The people of G-B have been demanding for years that it be made a part of Pakistan since there is virtual no connect with India.
- Some have in the past demanded a merger with PoK, but the people of G-B have no real connect with Kashmir either.
- They belong to several non-Kashmiri ethnicities and speak various languages, none of these Kashmiri.
- A majority of the estimated 1.5 million G-B residents are Shias. There is anger against Pakistan for unleashing extremist sectarian militant groups that target Shias.
- There is a movement for independence, but it has very little traction.