Gilgit-BaltistanApprox Read Time: 4 min
- Pakistan’s civil-military leadership has agreed to make Gilgit-Baltistan(GB) the ‘fifth province’ of the country.
- Pakistan’s minister for Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan affairs said last week that PM Imran Khan make a formal announcement to elevate Gilgit-Baltistan to the status of a full-fledged province with all constitutional rights.
- The local leaders of Pakistan stand divided over making Gilgit-Baltistan as 5th Province.
- Some of them are demanding more autonomy while others pitching for the Himalayan region which is a part of Pak-occupied Kashmir to be merged as a full-fledged province of Pakistan.
- Since GB is a disputed region, some political observers believe that Islamabad needs to seek consent of the local population before any decision on their future and should be given a choice on what they stand for.
Indian government’s demarche:
- India hit out at Pakistan for the latter’s proposed change in the status of Gilgit-Baltistan saying any such action will have no legal basis.
- Indian government reiterated that the entire territories of the UTs of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh have been and are an integral part of India and would remain so.
- MEA’s statement emphasised that-
- Any action by Pakistan to alter the status of the militarily occupied so-called Gilgit-Baltistan has no legal basis whatsoever and is totally void ab-initio (from the beginning).
- India’s position has always been clear and consistent.
- It also added Pakistan has no locus standi to comment on India’s internal matters.
- Geographically, Gilgit-Baltistan is a high-altitude territory situated in the trans-Himalayan region on the north-western corner of the Kashmir Valley.
- This region was illegally occupied by Pakistan since it invaded the region after the partition of India.
- Under Princely State
- Gilgit-Baltistan was part of the formerly princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (then identified as the state of Kashmir and Jammu).
- Under the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir, the princely state consisted of five regions- Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh, Gilgit Wazarat and Gilgit Agency.
- Under British Control
- With changing equations in the early 20th century after the formation of the USSR in 1917, the British took Gilgit Agency on a 60-year-lease from the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir in 1935.
- India’s Partition
- At the time of partition, British gave the princely states the right to merge with either of the two provided their territory had geographical continuity with the nation they wished to accede to.
- The British also returned the Gilgit Agency to the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir 15 days after India attained independence.
- Gilgit again came under the direct rule of the Maharaja as a legal part of his state.
- After independence, the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir decided not to accede to either India or Pakistan.
- But, the situation soon changed as Pakistan invaded the princely state in October 1947.
- Pakistan Occupied Gilgit-Baltistan by Treachery
- Pakistan captured a part of Kashmir by means of invasion and the entire Gilgit-Baltistan by the treachery of British military officer of the Maharaja.
- Under lease, Gilgit-Baltistan was protected by a British-controlled force called the Gilgit Scouts.
- After the British terminated the lease, they loaned two of their officers- Major W A Brown and Captain A S Mathieson, to the Maharaja for the purpose of looking after the defence of Gilgit-Baltistan till an alternative arrangement was found.
- But as Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession on October 31 in 1947, Major Brown revolted and captured King’s governor Brigadier Ghansara Singh.
- Major Brown then informed this former British boss stationed at Peshawar about his decision to accede to Pakistan.
- The British decision was influenced by their understanding of the reactions of the Arab nations with regard to formation of Pakistan.
- The British did not want to antagonise the oil-rich nations by apparently taking an anti-Muslim stand at a time when the fears of Soviet communism dominated the West.
- On hearing of Brown’s coup in Gilgit, Sir George Cunningham, who had just been appointed governor of North-West Frontier Province, instructed him to restore order, giving Pakistan de facto control of the region.
- Major Brown defected on November 1 and the Pakistani forces occupied Gilgit-Baltistan on November 4.
- The region has been under Pakistan’s administrative control since November 4, 1947, following the invasion of Kashmir by tribal militias and the Pakistan army.
- Under Princely State
Under Pakistan’s Control:
- The region was renamed ‘The Northern Areas of Pakistan’, and put under the direct control of Islamabad.
- The Northern Areas were distinct from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), the part of J&K that Pakistan calls Azad Kashmir.
- The Northern Areas are, however, more than six times the size of PoK.
- After the Pakistani government enacted the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order in August 2009, the ‘Northern Areas’ came to be known as Gilgit-Baltistan.
- It has an elected Assembly with limited powers to frame laws and a Council headed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
- This Council wields all powers, and controls the resources and revenues from the region.
- The area does not find mention in the Constitution of Pakistan.
- It is neither independent, nor does it have provincial status.
- This helps Pakistan maintain ambiguity about the region, in the way it does with PoK.
- Changing Demography & Sectarian Conflicts
- Pakistan has been trying to change the demography of Gilgit-Baltistan for decades by allowing Sunni Muslims to settle down in the Shia-dominated Gilgit-Baltistan.
- In the 1970s, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto abrogated the State Subject Rule (the law that until then protected the local demographic composition) to facilitate Pakistani Sunnis to acquire land and settle there.
- This order damaged the social fabric and provoked sectarian feuds that continue to simmer until today.
- Later, anti-Shia forces sponsored by Gen Zia-ul-Haq set about altering the ethnic composition of the region.
- With this, the number of Shias has since come down drastically.
- Shia-Sunni and Shia-Nurbakshi riots fomented by the Pakistani establishment caused extreme socio-political polarisation in Skardu in the early 1980s.
- A permanent trust deficit was created in May 1988 when tribal Lashkars, after receiving Zia’s nod, abducted local women and massacred thousands of Shias in Gilgit.
- India sees Gilgit-Baltistan as part of Indian territory illegally occupied by Pakistan.
- The unanimous parliamentary resolution of 1994 had reaffirmed that the region is a part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, which is an integral part of India by virtue of its accession to it in 1947.
- The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has further changed the dynamics.
- Pakistan has already gifted a portion (about 5,000-8,000 sq km) of Gilgit-Baltistan in 1963, a year after the Indo-China war.