The government has decided to make Gilgit-Baltistan the fifth province of Pakistan. Inter-Provincial Coordination Minister Riaz Hussain Pirzada has claimed that a committee, under the chair of Special Assistant to Prime Minister, Sartaj Aziz, had proposed to give Gilgit-Baltistan the status of a full-fledged province.
He further notified that a bill will be presented in the National Assembly of Pakistan for the amendment of the Constitution of Pakistan so that it incorporates Gilgit-Baltistan as a province of Pakistan. Until now, Gilgit-Baltistan has been considered a separate state which is a part of Pakistan.
Pirzada added that Nawaz Sharif will make use of his special powers as the Prime Minister of Pakistan to grant the region the status of a province.
Reports suggest that CPEC is the major reason behind this change. China is uncomfortable with the current ‘undefined’ status of Gilgit-Baltistan which puts its billions of dollars’ worth of investment at risk since the new economic route passes through this region.
China needs assurance from Pakistan that the Gilgit-Baltistan region would not be put to risk in Kashmir negotiations and will have an official provincial status.
During the whole process, Azad Kashmir and Jammu Kashmir’s leaderships have been kept out of the loop. Kashmiri activists aren’t too happy with the decision and want the government to avoid taking a step which could hurt the Kashmir cause.
Where the people of Gilgit-Baltistan will receive complete rights of a citizen of Pakistan and be part of the democratic circle of Pakistan as a proper province, the Kashmiris will undoubtedly feel left out.
The move could also generate anxiety across the Line of Control (LoC).
The Azad Jammu and Kashmir Assembly has passed a unanimous resolution demanding all constitutional and economic rights to be given to Gilgit-Baltistan without formally declaring it as a province.
Until now, Pakistan and India have maintained a separate identity over the disputed areas. The decision could hurt Kashmir’s freedom campaign. India could follow suit and convert forcefully occupied regions into provinces – a formal part of India. The decision could also weaken Pakistan’s case in front of international regulation bodies like the UN.
In case of a referendum of the Kashmir region, the separation of Gilgit-Baltistan could reduce votes in Pakistan’s favor.
Historically, Pakistan has always considered Gilgit-Baltistan as a part of Kashmir. Back when Pakistan got its independence, Gilgit-Baltistan was a set of princely states under Jammu and Kashmir but had accepted an unconditional merger with Pakistan.
However, when India took over some of Kashmir region, Gilgit-Baltistan was presented as a part of Kashmir so that it could help swing the vote in favor of the Muslim majority in the region.
The Pakistani government needs to consult all stakeholders, including the representatives of the Azad and Jammu Kashmir. Perhaps a middle ground can be achieved by thinking out of the box and giving the people of Gilgit-Baltistan the rights they demand without damaging the Kashmir cause or going against what Pakistan has stood for during the past seven decades.