PAKISTAN’S Prime Minister Imran Khan has said that his government will grant provisional status to Gilgit Baltistan, removing any ambiguity that prevailed over the issue in recent months. The decision has drawn condemnation from India. On Sunday, Khan addressed a rally in the city of Gilgit, capital of the Gilgit-Baltistan that forms a part of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, ahead of the elections there later this month. India, however, has rejected the move reiterating “that the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, including the area of so-called ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’, are an integral part of India by virtue of the legal, complete and irrevocable accession of Jammu and Kashmir to the Union of India in 1947”.
In response, Pakistan has also rejected Indian objection. According to Pakistan foreign office, the move is the result of the demand from the people of Gilgit Baltistan. “The administrative, political and economic reforms are a long-standing demand of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan,” said a statement released by Pakistan late on Sunday.
Interestingly, New Delhi and separatists in Kashmir are on the same page in opposing a provincial status to Gilgit Baltistan, albeit for entirely different reasons. The separatists had even urged Islamabad not to do so as the move according to them, would alter the status of “a disputed territory”. In a recent statement, Sayyid Abdullah Gillani, the special representative of the top Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, had said that such a step is “laden with disastrous consequences” with Pakistan risking not only “weakening its position and losing moral high ground but also demoralizing Kashmiri people and debilitating their ongoing struggle for the right to self-determination”.
Islamabad’s urgency to recast the region’s constitutional relationship with the country is traced to $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project and China’s alleged insistence for a legal cover to its investment through a disputed region.
More so, when Gilgit-Baltistan has to serve as the gateway for the multi-billion dollar project. China is building industrial parks, hydropower projects, railway lines and roads in the region. Besides, the project also involves the expansion of the Karakoram Highway connecting China’s restive Xinjiang region with Gilgit–Baltistan.
But the scene is complicated since Gilgit Baltistan is part of the undivided J&K and hence an inextricable part of the region’s contested legacy. There is also a debate how this would impact the status of Kashmir issue. With both countries integrating the parts of Kashmir under their possession – more so, Pakistan that has so far tried to maintain a position that the parts of Kashmir it controls aren’t its parts – this is believed to undermine the legal nature of the region as “a disputed area”. However, it remains to be seen how Pakistan and India handle the issue and what will be the implications of the provincial status to Gilgit Baltistan on the larger Kashmir issue.
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