The proposed Foreign Secretary level talks between India and Pakistan has been widely perceived to be linked to Pakistan acting fast on the probe into the attack on Pathankot base of the Indian Air Force (IAF) by the terrorists of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a fundamentalist outfit promoted by Maulana Masood Azhar. To complicate the matter further, the proposed talks are likely to run into a rough weather over the recent move by Pakistan to integrate the so called Northern Areas made up of Gilgit and Baltistan into rest of the country ostensibly under “Chinese pressure”.
Egged on by Beijing, Pakistan is working towards officially declaring disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region as part of Pakistan.
Of course, in Islamabad the Indian envoy made the point that Foreign Secretary level talks between Pakistan and India are not conditional to the Pathankot attack probe. ”I cannot give any particular date for the Secretary level talks but foreign secretaries from both the countries are in constant contact” noted Indian High Commissioner, Gautam Bambawaly.
The disputed Gilgit and Baltistan region, which India says, was illegally occupied by Pakistan in the aftermath of the partition of the country, is currently ruled directly from Islamabad without any specified constitutional status. As it is, Pakistan had divided Pak Occupied Kashmir(POK) into Northern Areas with an area72,495 sq.km-sq. miles and a population of 1.5-million and Azad Kashmir with an area of 13,297 sq.km and a population of 4.6-million. It was in 1970 that Gilgit Baltistan (GB) was turned into a separate administrative entity by merging the Gilgit Agency, Baltistan region and the former princely provinces of Hunza and Nagar. And in 2009, it was granted the status of self- governing territory of Pakistan with its own legislative assembly and Chief Minister.
Egged on by Beijing, Pakistan is working towards officially declaring disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region as part of Pakistan. The constitutional recognition of Gilgit Baltistan would bring this sparsely populated but poorly developed mountainous region one step closer to being formally declared as a province of Pakistan. However, Pakistani strategic analyst, Ayesha Siddiqa, believes that this move could also signal Islamabad’s quest to amicably end the Kashmir dispute by formally absorbing the territory it controls and by extension recognising New Delhi’s claims to part of the region it controls including Kashmir valley.
New Delhi is bound to view this controversial move by Pakistan as an attempt by Beijing and Islamabad to nullify India’s opposition to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which will pass through this strategically located region.
But then as expected the controversial Pakistani move to assimilate Northern Areas has sparked concern and consternation on both the sides of the divide. For instance, Yasin Malik, chairman of the separatist Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) has in a letter addressed to the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif warned against the consequences of the Pakistani attempt to turn Gilgit-Baltistan into the fifth province of Pakistan. All said and done, citizens of Northern Ares do not enjoy the same rights and privileges as the citizens in the rest of Pakistan guaranteed under the constitution. No wonder the region continues to be the poorest and most under developed with illiteracy, unemployment and social deprivation reigning supreme.
New Delhi is bound to view this controversial move by Pakistan as an attempt by Beijing and Islamabad to nullify India’s opposition to China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which will pass through this strategically located region. The ambitious, 3000-km.long CPEC is designed to link the deep sea Pakistani port of Gwadar under the administrative control of China with Kashgar, the capital of the restive, Muslim dominated Xinjiang province in north west China. Beijing is expected to invest over $46-billion for a series of infrastructure projects along CPEC that cuts across Gilgit-Baltistan region. Incidentally, both Pashtuns and Balochs have opposed the CPEC project saying that it would ultimately benefit only the Punjabis who wield the political power in Islamabad.
The granting of constitutional status to Gilgit-Baltistan would provide a legal cover to the multi- billion dollar Chinese investment in the region. China, which has already invested heavily in a number of projects in the area including the Karakoram highway, is more than keen to ensure the security of its investment Moreover China also wants to ensure the safety of its personnel stationed in the Northern Areas for the implementation of various projects. On its part China has made it clear that without a proper legal cover it cannot continue to pour billions of dollars on projects running through the disputed region.
While China has been settling ethnic Hans in the predominantly Uighur inhabited Xinjiang, Islamabad has been making vigorous efforts to change the demographic profile of Gilgit and Baltistan by settling Urdu speaking Sunni Muslims in the region…
Islamabad has for long insisted that the parts of Kashmir under its administrative control are semi-autonomous and has not been formally integrated into the country in keeping with the position that a referendum should be held in the whole region including Indian controlled Jammu and Kashmir. The proposed constitutional amendment by Pakistan would see Gilgit-Baltistan sending two law-makers to sit in the Federal Parliament though they would be vested only with observer status.
According to widely circulated media reports, Fan Changlong, Vice Chairman of China’s Central Military Commission had informed the Pakistan army chief Raheel Sharif that Beijing looked forward to close cooperation “to ensure proper management and security of CPEC.” This subtlety implied that Pakistan should take care of the legal and security aspects of CPEC which would help China expand its trade and transport footprint across Central and South Asia while countering the Indian and US influence. Incidentally, CPEC could face threat from Baloch separatists active in Balochistan province of Pakistan and Uighur militants in China’s autonomous Xinjiang region.
While China has been settling ethnic Hans in the predominantly Uighur inhabited Xinjiang, Islamabad has been making vigorous efforts to change the demographic profile of Gilgit and Baltistan by settling Urdu speaking Sunni Muslims in the region where a substantial portion of the people adhere to Shia and Ismail schools of Islam. As part of the move to suppress the ethnic identity of Balti people, Balti language is never thought in the local schools even as the Mandarin has been introduced in the schools. In recent years, the region has become a hot bed of radical groups that target Shia Muslims. A large segment of population in Gilgit-Baltistan region follows Shia and Ismail school of Islam.
…the proposed Chinese investment in Pakistan is a part of Beijing’s efforts to realize its Silk Road Economic belt and 21st century maritime silk road. But then there are serious doubts over Pakistan’s ability to absorb massive Chinese investment…
Terror camps are being set up in the region and there are no basic facilities or civic amenities worth the name for the population of the region. Wahabi preachers are leaving no stone unturned to destroy the tolerant social fabric of this region inhabited by a number of ethnic groups that are very close to nature. The cultural identity and social moorings of the ethnic groups in the region are sought to be eradicated at the dictates of the power that be in Islamabad. Gross human rights violation and widespread repression of dissenting groups have laid the seeds of separatism in Gilgit and Baltistan.
There is also a widespread resentment over China spearheading a variety of projects aimed at building infrastructure and exploiting the resources of the region. In order to ensure the security of Chinese technicians working on various projects, China has stationed its army personnel in the region. There are said to be more than 10,000 PLA(People’s Liberation Army) troops in this stunningly beautiful Himalayan region.
India has reiterated that Gilgit and Baltistan is an integral part of Jammu and Kashmir “The entire Jammu and Kashmir, which includes the regions of Gilgit and Baltistan is an integral part of India. The election in Gilgit and Baltistan on June.8, 2015 under the so called Gilgit Baltistan Empowerment and Self Government order is an attempt by Pakistan to camouflage its forcible and illegal occupation of the region” says India’s External Affairs Ministry. Incidentally, it was the second time that Pakistan had held elections to elect a regional legislature after devolution of powers in 2009 which resulted in the name of the region being changed from Northern areas to Gilgit-Baltistan and provided it with a local assembly.
CPEC, a network of roads, railway and pipelines and supporting infrastructure between the two countries, when completed, will provide China a direct access to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea. There is no denying the point that the proposed Chinese investment in Pakistan is a part of Beijing’s efforts to realize its Silk Road Economic belt and 21st century maritime silk road. But then there are serious doubts over Pakistan’s ability to absorb massive Chinese investment on CPEC given its recurring problems with militancy, separatism, sectarianism, political instability and widespread bureaucratic corruption.
…the under-currents of restlessness in Gilgit and Baltistan clearly reveal that this resources rich region is no more interested in being a part of either Pakistan or Azad Kashmir.
At the time of partition in 1947, Gilgit and Baltistan provinces were an integral part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. In a treacherous conspiracy, Maj. Brown, a British Commander of Gilgit Scouts revolted against the then Dogra ruler and brought the area under the illegal control of Pakistan. That India did nothing to bring back this area occupied by Pakistan through subterfuge speaks volumes for the “political hara-kiri” indulged in by the first Government of Independent India led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister of Azad Kashmir, Abdul Majeed, has warned the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that any attempt to convert Gilgit-Baltistan into a province of Pakistan could dilute Paki’s claim over Kashmir valley in India.“Gilgit-Baltistan is a part and parcel of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Any attempt to merge it into Pakistan will deal a final blow to our stand in the light of the UN resolution envisaging right of self- determination for the Kashmiris,” says Majeed. He stresses the point that Gilgit Baltistan had agreed to Pakistan’s administrative control only on a temporary basis. However, the under-currents of restlessness in Gilgit and Baltistan clearly reveal that this resources rich region is no more interested in being a part of either Pakistan or Azad Kashmir.