Pakistan intends to change the Status of Gilgit-Baltistan from De Facto to De Jure
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 28 Mar , 2017

A panel set up by Pakistan Government and headed by Mr Sartaj Aziz, Foreign Affairs advisor to Pakistan Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharief, on the reconstitution of Pakistan’s provinces, has recently submitted its report. The panel’s report, read out by Pakistan’s Inter-Provincial Coordination Minister, Riaz Hussein Pirzada, has proposed giving Gilgit-Baltistan (GB- formerly Northern Areas), the status of a province (fifth, after the existing four, namely, Baluchistan, Sindh, Punjab and Khyber–Pakhutkhwa).

The proposal has nothing to do with providing federal benefits to the hapless people of this mountainous region. It is dictated by Pakistan’s compulsion of masking its (GB’s) disputed status, as part of the long-standing Kashmir imbroglio, with a legal fig leaf. Turning it into a federal province, like other four provinces, is aimed at presenting a legally more acceptable position of GB’s constitutional status within Pakistan to China.

The latter is investing 46 billion dollars in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), whose initial and crucial portion passes through the rough, high altitude mountains of GB, before entering the plains of Punjab and Sindh, and terminating at Gwadar port in Baluchistan. Despite China being ruled by a communist dictatorship and public dissent not common, many people had started voicing their concern on their government spending huge public money on a project, part of which is located in an internationally disputed territory. Chinese wanted Pakistan to take some action in this regard that would satisfy the communist leadership.

As is well known, GB, with a population of over two million people and covering an area of 72, 971 Sq Km, is part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, whose Maharaja in Oct 1947, had signed an ‘Instrument of Accession’ with the Government of India, as envisaged in the Government of India (Independence) Act, 1947.

Pakistan’s invasion of the State on 22 Oct 1947, and India’s acceptance of the United Nations-brokered ‘cease-fire’, which came into effect on 01 January, 1949, resulted in the aggressor, Pakistan, retaining a portion of the State, which included GB too, besides other areas. In 1963, Pakistan handed over 5000 Sq Km of Northern Area astride Siachen Glacier in Shaksgam, to China as quid pro quo for China’s help to the former in developing of nuclear weapon.

Pakistan separated GB from Jammu and Kashmir and was administered directly by the Federal Government in Islamabad. The remaining portion of the State under its illegal occupation was called Azad Kashmir (Pakistan Occupied Kashmir), with its capital at Muzzafarabad. Incidentally, Pakistan does not include GB in its constitution. At present, the Shia majority of the area, which accounts for 14% of Pakistan’s population, has little say in its own affairs, despite having a pretense of autonomy. With its change in status, Pakistan can claim that GB will be conferred with more legislative powers, with greater control over its revenue, which it earns through tourism, trekking and mountaineering. It is well known that the area is rich in gold and uranium deposits.

The locals in GB have resented the construction of CPEC through their area, as they feel that the project brings them no benefits. On the other hand, they assert that its resources will be further exploited to satisfy Pakistan’s elite, sitting in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Islamabad. They also apprehend that the construction of CPEC by China and the change in its constitutional position will further complicate its disputed status.

The Gilgit-Baltistan Democratic Alliance, an amalgamation of various parties opposing the move, has categorically stated that Pakistan’s action is intended to ‘plunder the resources of their Province’. Talking to the media, Ammanullah Khan, Chairman of the GB Democratic Alliance, said, “The real motive behind the move is to provide legal cover to the Pakistani plans to lease out the region to China and sell its natural resources, like gold and uranium.”

For Pakistan, CPEC holds enormous importance, both economically as well as strategically. According to the estimates carried out by some economic think tanks, Pakistan expects an economic windfall once all the projects associated with CPEC are completed. Some say that the value of these projects will exceed all Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the country since 1970. This would translate into creation of 700000 additional jobs in the country in the next 15 years and adding nearly 2.5 percentage points to its rate of growth.

China’s economic interests in constructing CPEC at such a huge cost, lies in the fact that its ships located at Gwadar (once it is functional), will take only 10 days to reach Europe, compared to the present time of 45 days these take, sailing via straits of Malacca.

The strategic importance of GB lies in the fact that it is the only land link between China and Pakistan, through which the CPEC passes. Construction of CPEC will enable China to gain enormous strategic advantage by positioning of its ships permanently at Gwadar, at the mouth of an important waterway, the straits of Hormuz and the Gulf, through which a number of shipping/oil tankers pass throughout the year. China will also be facilitated in getting alternate access to Central Asian countries through Iran and Afghanistan.

Pakistan hopes that CPEC, besides providing enormous economic benefits to it, can also provide many strategic advantages, vis a vis India. The most significant strategic advantage that will accrue to Pakistan is that, China, in order to safeguard its enormous investment in CPEC, will have to commit itself to Pakistan’s security on a permanent basis. Secondly, permanent Chinese presence in GB will pose a serious threat to both, our positions in Siachen as also to Ladakh. It will also strengthen Chinese position in LAC, where it claims large tracts of our territory. Besides, Chinese permanent presence in part of J&K State, illegally occupied by Pakistan, cannot be music to Indian ears.

India definitely has a task at its hands.

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