From CPEC to change in legal status, here's why India is worried about Pakistan giving Gilgit-Baltistan 'provisional provincial status'

India's consistent position has been that Gilgit-Baltistan is a part of Indian territory, and a statement by the MEA on Sunday reflected this

FP Staff November 02, 2020 15:37:19 IST
From CPEC to change in legal status, here's why India is worried about Pakistan giving Gilgit-Baltistan 'provisional provincial status'

Representational image. Reuters

Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan on Sunday announced "provisional provincial status" to Gilgit-Baltistan, in a move that elicited strong objection from India.

Pakistan has also announced that elections will be held for the Legislative Assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan later this month. This was after the Pakistan Supreme Court, in a ruling earlier this year, allowed Islamabad to amend a 2018 administrative order to conduct general elections in the region.

India's objections

India's consistent position has been that Gilgit-Baltistan is a part of Indian territory, and a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs on Sunday reflected this. MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said India "firmly rejects" the attempt by Pakistan to bring material changes to a part of Indian territory which is under Islamabad's "illegal and forcible occupation" and asked the neighbouring country to immediately vacate such areas.

"I reiterate that the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, including the area of so-called 'Gilgit-Baltistan', are an integral part of India by virtue of the legal, complete and irrevocable accession of Jammu and Kashmir to the Union of India in 1947," the MEA spokesperson said.

He said the government of Pakistan has no locus standi on territories "illegally and forcibly" occupied by it and that the latest move will not be able to hide the "grave" human rights violations in these Pakistan-occupied territories.

India had taken a similar stand after the Pakistan Supreme Court's verdict allowing the government to amend a 2018 administrative order. The government had issued a demarche to a senior Pakistani diplomat lodging a strong protest over the court ruling. The MEA also said in a statement, "It was further conveyed that such actions can neither hide the illegal occupation of parts of Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh by Pakistan nor the grave human rights violations, exploitation and denial of freedom to the people residing in Pakistan occupied territories for the past seven decades."

Leaving aside official statements, New Delhi also has other reasons to be concerned about Pakistan's legal changes on Gilgit-Baltistan. As an article in The Print notes, the proposed 'inclusion' of Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan "legalises the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) activity in the region, and allows Beijing greater ingress." The article also notes that Pakistan's Minister for Kashmir Affairs Ali Amin Khan Gandapur announced recently that the Chinese-financed Moqpondass SEZ (special economic zone) will now go ahead.

Within Kashmir as well, many have expressed worry about China's growing footprint in the region. At a UN Human Rights Council meeting in March 2019, Junaid Qureshi, a Kashmiri and director of the European Foundation of South Asian Studies (EFSAS) had lambasted Pakistan for becoming a "broker" to China.

Gilgit-Baltistan's legal status

Gilgit-Baltistan and the rest of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (known across the border as Azad Jammu and Kashmir) have a somewhat unclear legal status vis-a-vis Pakistan.

Article 257 of the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan states, "When the people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir decide to accede to Pakistan, the relationship between Pakistan and the State shall be determined in accordance with the wishes of the people of that State."

However, it does not specifically mention that the regions of the state that it presently occupies are part of its territory. Article 1(2)(d) of the country's Constitution only states that the country's territories include "such States and territories as are or may be included in Pakistan, whether by accession or otherwise".

Occupied illegitimately by Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan has a legislative assembly and namesake autonomy. The region also has a Gilgit-Baltistan Council, which is headed by the prime minister of Pakistan and has among its members the Minister of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Baltistan and other ministers nominated by the prime minister.

As noted in an article in the Pakistan-based Herald magazine, Gilgit-Baltistan is dependent on the Pakistan government for its financial and development activities as well as in matters of defence, economy and foreign policy.

Now, with China seeking to step up its involvement in Gilgit-Baltistan, it is no surprise that Pakistan is attempting to untangle the contradictions in the region's legal status. In this context, there is good justification for India's strident criticism of Pakistan's latest moves.

With inputs from PTI

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