J&K – The issues around the state

Pakistan grants statehood to Gilgit-Baltistan

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Gilgit Baltistan

Mains level : Issues with PoK

Pakistan has finalized draft legislation to incorporate Gilgit-Baltistan, the region known before 2009 as Northern Areas, as a province of the country.

Gilgit-Baltistan: History of the region

  • 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.
  • When Hari Singh acceded to India on October 26, 1947, the Gilgit Scouts rose in rebellion, led by their British commander Major William Alexander Brown.
  • 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.

Accession with Pakistan

  • In November, 1947, a political outfit called the Revolutionary Council of Gilgit-Baltistan had proclaimed the independent state of Gilgit-Baltistan.
  • It declared GB was acceding to Pakistan only to the extent of full administrative control, choosing to govern it directly under the Frontier Crimes Regulation.
  • It was a law devised by the British to keep control of the restive tribal areas of the northwest.
  • Following the India-Pakistan ceasefire of January 1, 1949, Pakistan entered into an agreement with the “provisional government” of “Azad Jammu & Kashmir”.
  • Much of its parts had been occupied by Pakistani troops and irregulars and were later taken over by Pak defence and foreign affairs.
  • Under this agreement, the AJK government also ceded administration of Gilgit-Baltistan to Pakistan.

Not being incorporated 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.
  • One reason ascribed to this is that Pakistan did not want to undermine its international case that the resolution of the Kashmir issue had to be in accordance with UN resolutions that called for a plebiscite.
  • In 1975, PoK got its own Constitution, making it an ostensibly self-governed autonomous territory.
  • This Constitution had no jurisdiction over the Northern Areas, which continued to be administered directly by Islamabad (the Frontier Crimes Regulation was discontinued in 1997)
  • In reality, PoK too remained under the control of Pakistani federal administration and the security establishment, through the Kashmir Council.

Reasons behind

  • The main difference was that while the people of PoK had rights and freedoms guaranteed by their own Constitution, which mirrors the Pakistan Constitution.
  • However the people of the minority Shia-dominated Northern Areas did not have any political representation.
  • Although they were considered Pakistani, including for citizenship and passports, they were outside the ambit of constitutional protections available to those in the four provinces and PoK.

Why GB is in focus now?

  • Pakistan began considering changes to its administrative arrangements with increasing Chinese involvement in strategic development ventures.
  • GB was vital to those projects, given that it provides only land access between the two countries.
  • Since 2009, it has had a namesake legislative assembly.

Suppression of a movement

  • There is anger against Pakistan for unleashing sectarian militant groups that target Shias, but the predominant sentiment is that all this will improve once they are part of the Pakistani federation.
  • There is a small movement for independence, but it has very little traction. Some factions argue for its accession with India.
  • While some reports have suggested that Pakistan’s decision is under pressure from China, wary that Gilgit-Baltistan’s ambiguous status might undermine the legality of its projects there.

Significance for India

  • Gilgit-Baltistan is an integral part of India by virtue of the legal, complete and irrevocable accession of Jammu & Kashmir to the Union of India in 1947.
  • The area’s strategic importance for India has increased in light of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor agreement.
  • India is also concerned of a two-front war (with China as well as Pakistan) after the standoff in Eastern Ladakh last year.
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