Pakistan Finalises Bill to Grant new Status to Gilgit-Baltistan
Why in News?
In July, 2021 Pakistan's Law and Justice Ministry has finalised draft legislation (26th Constitutional Amendment Bill) to incorporate Gilgit-Baltistan, the region known before 2009 as Northern Areas, as a province of the country.
Gilgit-Baltistan region 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.
However Pakistan occupied parts of the state through covert warfare in 1947-48. The fronts solidified gradually along what has come to be known as the line of control.
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.
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.
The NALC was an elected body, but had no more than an advisory role to the Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas, who ruled from Islamabad.
The Importance of Gilgit-Baltistan (G.B)
Gilgit-Baltistan is the northermost 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.
Gilgit-Baltistan has acquired great significance in the region due to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that is now a "jugular vein" for the country.
To G-B's west is Afghanistan, to its south is Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and to the east J&K.
India's consistent position has been that Gilgit-Baltistan is a part of Indian territory, by virtue of the legal, complete and irrevocable accession of Jammu and Kashmir to the Union of India in 1947.
India has protested to China over the CPEC and the proposed 'inclusion' of Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan 'legalises the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) activity in the region, and allows Beijing greater ingress.
Will the latest move by Pakistan make the Kashmir dispute irrelevant?
During the announcement in Gilgit city, Pakistan alluded to the proposal being within the ambit of the UN resolutions.
Pakistan was probably referring to the UN resolution of 13 August, 1948, Part 2, A(3), which states that 'pending final solution, the territory evacuated by the Pakistani troops will be administered by local authorities.' In Pakistan's scheme of things, this is provisional, hence an interim arrangement till the final settlement of the Kashmir issue according to the UN resolutions.
Pakistan chose to keep Gilgit-Baltistan in a state of limbo all these years because it feared that annexing Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Kashmir would formalize the de facto division of Jammu and Kashmir and weaken Pakistan's claims to territory under India's control.
By conferring provincial status on Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan will be strengthening India's long-standing arugment that Pakistan so-called support to the Kashmir cause is not so much about supporting their right to self-determination and independence but a bid to annex the territory of all of Kashmir.