Pakistan is planning to absorb Gilgit-Baltistan region in a bid to provide legal cover to the multi-billion-dollar Chinese investment plan. This proposal, if passed, will see the mountainous region find a place for the first time in Pakistan’s Constitution. This step will bring it one step closer to being fully absorbed as an additional province.
Historically Pakistan has maintained that parts of Kashmir it controls are semi-autonomous and has not formally integrated them into the country. Islamabad, in line with its position, has reiterated that referendum should be carried out across the whole region.
Sajjad-ul-Haq, spokesman for the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan Hafiz Hafeez ur Rehman, told AFP: “A high level committee formed by the prime minister is working on the issue, you will hear good news soon.” In addition to being named in the Constitution, Gilgit-Baltistan would also send two lawmakers to sit in the federal parliament — though they would be given observer status only.
This move, according to observers is done in the backdrop of China Pakistan Economic Corridor, the $46 billion infrastructure plan set to link China’s western city of Kashgar to the Pakistani port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea.
Gilgit-Baltistan region is neither a province of Pakistan nor part of the federation. It is a part of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir, which was divided between India and Pakistan.
It is directly ruled from Islamabad, although it doesn’t enjoy the constitutional status similar to, for example, the Punjab province, which has representatives in the Pakistan parliament.
Reports in Pakistan media said that this move came nine months after Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif signed the CPEC agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
This project will shorten Chinese’s road to Middle East and Central Asia by around 12,070 km and also bring an economic windfall in the form of oil and markets.
But India-based separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani termed the Gilgit-Baltistan region as integral part of Jammu and Kashmir. He said that though economic partnership with China is beneficial, merging Gilgit-Baltistan with Pakistan is not necessary.
In a written letter to the Pakistan Prime Minister, Geelani said that the merger “will prove a disaster for the disputed nature of Jammu and Kashmir and this act will impact the disputed status of this region”.
The 86-year-old leader said that the resolutions of UNCIP do not have any such provision which could hinder the development process in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Earlier it was, JKLF chief, Mohammad Yasin Malik, who wrote an open letter to the Pakistan Prime Minister mentioning that any move to change the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan will amount to “backstabbing” the sentiments of people who have died in Kashmir conflict. Separatists in the Kashmir Valley have started a strong protest against this move. Kashmir issue, which has been the bone of contention between the India and Pakistan, will see more animosity between the two countries if this resolution is passed by Pakistan.
The Hurriyat leadership will make every possible effort to stop Pakistan from doing this, as they know it that if this happens, their stand on the Kashmir issue will become weaker.
In fact Geelani in his letter reminds the Pakistan Prime Minister of his speech which he had delivered in UN general assembly and in which he had advocated the Right to Self Determination demand of the Kashmiri nation, withdrawal of armed forces and holding of referendum in the state.