Pakistani media reported late on Tuesday night that the government is planning to declare Gilgit-Baltistan as the country’s fifth province.
There are currently four provinces, two autonomous territories, one Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and one tribal area.
The tribal area, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), is a restive region in Pakistan’s west. The FCT is Islamabad and the four provinces are Balochistan, Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The two autonomous territories is what is at the center of the wars between Pakistan and India since their independence from the British rule.
The territories, which in Pakistan’s terminology are Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, are basically Pak-occupied Kashmir.
So Pakistan is planning to make Gilgit-Baltistan a province, which means that it is now officially making the region a part of the country. But why?
In January 2016, Pakistan had already stated its intentions of merging the region with the country by granting it the status of a province. The decision was taken by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif almost nine months after the signing of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
The CPEC cuts through the Gilgit-Baltistan region on its way from China’s Kashgar in Xinjiang province to Pakistan’s Gwadar in Balochistan.
Without making Gilgit-Baltistan a part of Pakistan, Islamabad will not be able to better impose policies and plans that are essential for the success of the CPEC.
There would be no legal protection to the $54 billion project which is very essential for the growth of Pakistan’s economy as well as China’s global ambitions.
It was only to ensure that the CPEC is safe that Pakistan launched Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a huge military operation led by former army chief General Raheel Sharif against terrorists who might threaten Pakistan’s establishment.
So Islamabad’s objective of merging Gilgit-Baltistan is basically to allay the fears of its bosses in Beijing regarding the success of the CPEC.
But ever since the construction of the CPEC started, protests erupted in the region primarily over jobs and the treatment of the locals at the hands of Pakistani authorities.
Protesters claim that the jobs generated from the construction of the CPEC are being given to the Punjabi elite from Islamabad and other areas instead of the locals.
Pakistani security forces, which control the region, have been violently crushing the protests and arresting the leaders. Many of the leaders were kept in detention without trial.
Many of the locals have been killed by the Pakistani security forces.
In August last year, a huge demonstration was held outside the Pakistani High Commission in London by UK-based Jammu and Kashmir National Independence Alliance (JKNIA). The group was protesting against the human rights violations done by Pakistani security forces in the region.
On March 15, a joint group of activists from Gilgit-Baltistan and Sindh protested against Pakistani atrocities in the region before the UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
The protests came just couple of days after a similar protest at the same place by activists from Balochistan.
Geneva: Anti-Pakistan protest by activists from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, Gilgit, Balochistan and Sindh in front of United Nations HQ pic.twitter.com/gfduWnFsUN
— ANI (@ANI_news) March 14, 2017
Once made a province, the almost 73,000 square kilometer region will get a political status equal to that of any other Pakistani province. By doing this Islamabad is technically refusing to acknowledge that Gilgit-Baltistan is a part of Kashmir.
In 2016 Kashmiri separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik had written to Nawaz Sharif protesting against Pakistan’s decision to merge Gilgit-Baltistan with the country on the grounds that it defeats Kashmir’s demand for freedom.
They had termed Pakistan’s plan as “backstabbing”.
In his letter, Geelani had stated that any plans to merge the region with Pakistan “will prove a disaster for the disputed nature of Jammu and Kashmir”.
But it is now apparent that Pakistan has no concerns for the people of Kashmir. In the region it occupies, Pakistan does not even grant basic fundamental rights to the people.
This move proves that Islamabad’s claims of support for the Kashmiri separatists were nothing but political gimmicks aimed at deliberately creating disturbance in India. New Delhi has been proved right that Islamabad has been instigating the separatists in the Valley and has been illegally occupying Gilgit-Baltistan as well as what is called ‘Azad Kashmir’.
The autonomy Pakistan grants to the occupied territories is in name only. The resources of the region are exploited by Islamabad but people are neither granted equal status like other Pakistani citizens nor representation in Pakistan’s governance.
Such is Pakistan’s apathetic treatment of the region that even the local languages are ignored in census forms.
None of the languages indigenous to Gilgit-Baltistan such as Shina, Balti, Burshaski, etc feature in the census form pic.twitter.com/Y66YWsXzLX
— omar r quraishi (@omar_quraishi) March 15, 2017
Yet the separatists in India continue to see in Pakistan a “dear friend” despite Islamabad’s inhuman treatment of the people in PoK.
India is expected to condemn the move in strong words. Being the major part of Pak-occupied Kashmir, India’s claim on the region is based on the Instrument of Accession signed by Kashmir’s erstwhile ruler Maharaja Hari Singh.
Pakistan illegally captured what is now Pak-occupied Kashmir in the first Indo-Pak war of 1947-48.
The Modi government has openly spoken against Pakistan’s atrocities in the region and said that freeing Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan from Pakistan’s illegal occupation is New Delhi’s aim.
At the same time, China is preparing to station a very high number of its Marine Corps soldiers in Gwadar to guard the port city integral to the CPEC project. That is, of course, a major security concern for India.