Pakistan has four provinces — Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and Sindh and self-claimed, two ‘autonomous territories’ — Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan (also referred to as the Northern Areas)— which it federally administers through a puppet regional government.
Gilgit-Baltistan, a part of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir is under Pakistan’s control since 1947. Historically, Pakistan has always treated the region as part of the disputed area of J&K, though, it illegally ceded the Shaksgam Valley of Gilgit-Baltistan to China in 1963 border agreement.
The area is significant to both Pakistan and China as Gilgit-Baltistan is the entry-point to the $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Beijing sees the region’s disputed status as direct threat to its economic interests and has therefore pushed Islamabad to make the move to provide legal cover to the CPEC. Pressurised by China, Islamabad has been forced to declare Gilgit- Baltistan one of its province, in order to weaken Delhi’s objections to its claims over the disputed state.
How the Move is likely to be Legalised
Acommittee, headed by Pakistan’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, had proposed giving the status of a province to Gilgit-Baltistan.
The committee, suggested that a constitutional amendment be made to change the status of the region, through which the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor(CPEC) passes.
Reactions by the Stake Holders
Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Muhammad Yasin Malik, cautioned Islamabad in a joint statement on March 17 “Any proposal to declare Gilgit-Baltistan as the fifth province of Pakistan is unacceptable as it tantamount to changing the disputed nature of Kashmir. Unless and until the people of Jammu and Kashmir are provided an opportunity to decide the future course of the state through referendum, no division, alteration and changes are acceptable”.
The statement also warned Islamabad to desist from embarking on any “adventure” that could impact Kashmir’s “disputed status”.
Pak Based Activists and Political Class
United Jihad Council chief and Hizbul Mujahideen supremo Syed Salahuddin also warned Islamabad. “Pakistan should stop the process of making Gilgit-Baltistan its fifth province. Such an act will have serious ramifications on the Kashmir issue as well as Kashmir-centric UN resolutions,” says a strongly worded statement.
In 2014, a similar proposal by the country’s federal ministry of Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan affairs was criticised by residents of divided Kashmir across the Line of Control. On that occasion Pakistan assembly had also passed a resolution opposing the granting of provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan. “Making Gilgit-Baltistan a fifth province will weaken Pakistan’s national stand on Jammu and Kashmir at the international level,” said the resolution. It added, “Whenever a plebiscite is conducted the people of G-B will also have the right to decide their future with the people of other parts of the State of Jammu and Kashmir”.
China on Friday evaded a direct response to its reported involvement in Pakistan’s decision to declare the strategic Gilgit-Baltistan region, bordering Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), as the country’s fifth province.
Asked to respond to reports that Beijing’s concerns played a hand in Islamabad’s decision to upgrade the status of the region because of the CPEC, foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying didn’t give a direct response.
What it bodes for Kashmiri’s struggle and their sacrifices
In one stroke, this move completely exposes Islamabad’s support to Kashmir struggle. Pakistan never cared about the “aspirations of Kashmiris” and eyed the territorial gains to score a point over India. It changes the entire complexion of Kashmir Struggle. The impact of the move is such that Syed Salahuddin, was forced to request Pakistan not to declare Gilgit-Baltistan as its province because it exposes the truth of Kashmiri “freedom movement”.
China clearly dictates the foreign policy of Pakistan. It will not accept any impediment to its belt and road initiative.
It will also be a violation of the agreement between the two countries to address all issues bilaterally through peaceful means, which was enshrined in the Shimla Agreement of 1972 and reiterated through the Lahore Declaration in 1999
Pakistan Government has not given any statement but it is clear now that economic interest of impoverished Pakistan will surely weigh over its historical stand by trashing Kashmiri “freedom movement” to the dustbins of history. Two, it is trying to align and subsume the “freedom movement” into a larger Islamic Caliphate project of which Pakistan itself is a part.