A Pakistani human rights activist has called Islamabad’s move to fortify its occupation of Gilgit-Baltistan by holding elections in the region illegal. He has urged people in Gilgit-Baltistan to boycott the polls sponsored by Pakistan. Earlier this month, the Ministry of External Affairs issued a “strong protest” over an order by the Pakistan Supreme Court allowing the Imran Khan government to hold elections in the region of Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The government said it had issued a demarche to protest what it called Pakistan’s attempt to make “material changes” to the disputed area, by bringing federal authority to Gilgit-Baltistan, which has functioned as a “provincial autonomous region” since 2009.
What’s the issue?
- Located in the northern Pakistan. It borders China in the North, Afghanistan in the west, Tajikistan in the north west and Kashmir in the south east.
- It shares a geographical boundary with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and India considers it as part of the undivided Jammu and Kashmir, while Pakistan sees it as a separate from PoK.
- It has a regional Assembly and an elected Chief Minister.
- In a recent order, the Pakistan Supreme Court allowed the amendment to the Government of Gilgit-Baltistan Order of 2018 to conduct the general elections in the region.
- Gilgit-Baltistan has functioned as a “provincial autonomous region” since 2009.
- Besides, India has conveyed that the entire Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, including the areas of Gilgit and Baltistan, are an integral part of India by virtue of its fully legal and irrevocable accession.
- Pakistan is very concerned about this region post August.
- Entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, which also includes the so-called ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’ has been, is and shall remain an integral part of India.
- Pakistan government or judiciary have no locus standi on territories illegally and forcibly occupied by it. Any action to alter the status of these occupied territories by Pakistan has no legal basis whatsoever.
Pakistan, in 2017, declared the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan region as its fifth Province.
- Gilgit- Baltistan is part of J&K and any such move would seriously damage Pakistan’s Kashmir case. Two UN resolutions of August 13, 1948 and January 5, 1949 clearly established a link between GB and the Kashmir issue.
- Making the region its fifth province would thus violate the Karachi Agreement — perhaps the only instrument that provides doubtful legal authority to Pakistan’s administration of GB — as well as the UN resolutions that would damage its position on the Kashmir issue.
- Any such move would also be violative of the 1963 Pak-China Boundary Agreement that calls for the sovereign authority to reopen negotiations with China “after the settlement of the Kashmir dispute between Pakistan and India” and of the 1972 Simla Agreement that mentions that “neither side shall unilaterally alter the situation”.
- Political activists have accused Pakistan of changing the demography of Gilgit Baltistan and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) in disregard to its own commitments.
- Islamabad has gradually diluted its constitution in order to facilitate outsiders to grab the land and resources of illegally occupied areas.
- Islamabad abolished the State Subject Rule in Gilgit Baltistan in 1984, which resulted in demographic changes in the territory. People from different parts of Pakistan are free to purchase land there.
- Pakistan has never kept its end of bargain when comes to Jammu and Kashmir. It has encroached on the land of Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK). It has awarded the land of PoJK to China. It is changing the local demography that further violates the State Subject Rule.
- On August 29, 2009, the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009, was passed which granted limited autonomy, by creating, among other things, an elected Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly and Gilgit-Baltistan Council.
- This was overridden by Gilgit Baltistan Order 2018 which entrusted Pakistan with indisputable authority over the region. The order is seen as Islamabad’s efforts towards incorporating the disputed region as its fifth province.
- Currently, Gilgit-Baltistan is neither a province nor a state. It has a semi-provincial status.
- Islamabad has designs to exploit the resources and cash-in the geo-strategic advantages of the region.
- It robs the locals off their resources. It denies them jobs and services. It has never paid royalty on local water resources. It never pays tolls on local transit routes. All these activities are illegal and not acceptable.
- The erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was divided because of expansionists’ designs of Pakistan. And since then people are suffering an endless irony under the undemocratic rule of Pakistan.
- Education, health, infrastructure and society have been destroyed. Natural resources have been plundered since a long time. There is no employment for the educated youth.
- It is believed that the Pakistani military has been systematically carrying out operations to keep the people of Gilgit Baltistan and PoK underdeveloped and underprivileged.
- Most of the educated people have also been recruited by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) to propagate in favour of the Pakistani establishment and that is a very dangerous phenomenon.
The China Factor:
- Pakistan has the pressure to declare Gilgit Baltistan as province of it so that China can take over its work.
- It is a major presence in the region, by virtue of being a neighbour. In 1963, Pakistan ceded 5,180 sq kms of the Shaksgam Valley to Beijing. In the late 1960s, China began constructing the Karakoram Highway to link Kasghar in Xinjiang province of China with Abbotabad in Pakistan, through the Khunjerab pass.
- Earlier in 2009, India had also formally objected to China undertaking projects in the region, noting that:“Pakistan has been in illegal occupation of parts of the Indian State of Jammu & Kashmir since 1947”and that the Chinese side was fully aware of “India’s position and our concerns about Chinese activities in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.”
- Indian move to recover the region for India will be resisted not only by Pakistan, but China as well, which is digging into the region so as to create a cushion between the jihadi bad-lands of its ally Pakistan.
- So, the Chinese have been active in a range of hydro and road-building projects such as those relating to the Neelum Valley, Diamer Bhasha dam, the extension of the Karakoram Highway, the Sost dry port, the Bunji dam etc.
- China announced massive investments in what is now called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, India protested again because the corridor passed through Gilgit-Baltistan. The corridor will comprise of oil pipelines, roads and a railway linking Gwadar in Balochistan with Kasghar.
- We need to assert our rights to the area and bring in international human rights forums into it.
- Support the people who have been exploited in that region.
- It is important to get both political and economic support.
- Regardless of consequences we need to give them reserve seats for Gilgit Baltistan in J&K assembly.