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Pakistan's plan to occupy Gilgit-Baltistan: Separatist leaders say move could impact Kashmir dispute

The decision by Islamabad to change the constitutional status of the Gilgit-Baltistan region and occupy the region as its fifth province, apparently to safeguard the Chinese interests, has irked separatist leadership in Kashmir valley, who said the move could have an impact on the “disputed status” of Kashmir. The united faction of the Hurriyat Conference led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik have said in a joint statement that any proposal to declare Gilgit-Baltistan as the fifth state of Pakistan is “unacceptable.”

“Kashmir, Ladakh, Jammu, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan is a single entity,” the trio said while referring to the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. “The political destiny about Jammu and Kashmir is yet to be decided.”

 Pakistans plan to occupy Gilgit-Baltistan: Separatist leaders say move could impact Kashmir dispute

Gilgit. AFP

Gilgit-Baltistan region, until now, was neither a province of Pakistan nor a part of the federation. It is a part of the erstwhile state, which was divided between India and Pakistan, and 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. India has long been claiming the region as a part of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.

“We hail the role of Pakistan regarding the issue in international forums, however, any deviation in its stance about Kashmir & its geographical entity is improper & will prove detrimental to the Kashmir cause,” Hurriyat leaders said in the statement. The move to annexe the region is largely seen to accommodate the legal concerns of China and its multi-billion-dollar investment in China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). But this decision could imply a tactical shift of the country’s traditional policy on Kashmir which will have an obvious effect on the Kashmir “dispute.”

“The underlying message is very important, that economic concerns are trumping the political ones,” Shakeel Qalander, an economist and industrialist, tells Firstpost. The CPEC is a $46 billion infrastructure plan set to link China’s western city of Kashgar to the Pakistani port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea, with a network of roads, highways, railways and investment parks. India has raised objections to the project, which envisions road and train networks through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, divided between the so-called “Azad Jammu and Kashmir” and Gilgit-Baltistan, which India claims as part of its territory.

However, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has written a letter to JKLF Chairman Yasin Malik saying the media speculations were either “misconceptions or misinterpretations.” “It is unambiguously clear that Pakistan is fully aware of the sensitivities attached to Gilgit-Baltistan with regard to Jammu-Kashmir dispute. The reforms intended in Gilgit-Baltistan are aimed at empowering the people of this region and giving them a greater say in their governance,” the letter reads.

“I appreciate your views on the impact of any possible change in the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan on the Kashmir cause. Your concerns and suggestions are valuable and are being examined with meticulous care.” Sharif wrote to Malik.

However, Justice Syed Manzoor Hussain Gilani, a former judge at the Supreme Court of “Azad Jammu and Kashmir,” says the reforms in constitutional status have been a continuous process since 1975, and that it was bound to happen for the local governance needs. And it has been a long pending demand of GB province to be part of Pakistan for local governance issues.“It is unlikely the Pakistani government would change its stand on the larger Kashmir issue even if the GB is annexed as the fifth province of the Pakistan,” Gilani, the retired Justice, said.

Political analysts say the proposed provincial status to the region would eventually weaken Islamabad’s claims on Kashmir. That is the reason why separatist leaders in the valley are against the provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan region. After Kashmir got divided between India and Pakistan, both the countries have administrated the territories of the state under their control. But while Indian constitution provides for the same rights to its citizens living in Kashmir in representative institutions, like any other state, Pakistan has avoided giving representation to people living on its side of Kashmir or Gilgit-Baltistan region in its institutions of governance.

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Updated Date: Mar 21, 2017 15:36:41 IST