BY SURYA PRATAP
According to a report in Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, Pakistan’s Law and Justice Ministry has finished draught legislation to make Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly known as Northern Area before 2009, a province of the country. New Delhi has yet to respond to the latest report, but is certain to do so. It claims that Gilgit-Baltistan is 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 China-Pakistan Economic Corridor pact, under which Beijing is investing heavily in the area as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, has heightened the strategic importance of the region for India, as has the threat of a two-front conflict following the standoff in Eastern Ladakh last year.
Gilgit was part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, although it was directly administered by the British, who had leased it from Hari Singh, the Muslim-majority state’s Hindu king. The Gilgit Scouts, led by their British commander Major William Alexander Brown, rose up in rebellion when Hari Singh acceded to India on October 26, 1947. The Gilgit Scourts also invaded Baltistan, which was part of Ladakh at the time, and took Skardu, Kargil, and Dras. In August 1948, Indian soldiers retook Kargil and Dras in fighting that followed.
Prior to it, the Revolutionary Council of Gilgit-Baltistan had declared the independent state of Gilgit-Baltistan on November 1, 1947. It was announced pursuant to Pakistan on November 15, which recognised the accession only to the degree of complete administrative authority, opting to manage it directly under the Frontier Crimes Regulation, a statute designed by the British to maintain control over the restive tribal
WHY HAS IT NOT BEEN INCLUDED AS A PROVINCE UNTIL NOW?
Pakistan’s first full-fledged civilian constitution was enacted in 1974, and it names four provinces: Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and Khyber Pakthunkhwa. The provinces of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit-Baltistan were not created. One territories of the northwest. explanation given is that Pakistan did not want to jeopardise its international argument that the Kashmir issue must be resolved in accordance with a UN resolution calling for a plebiscite.
PoK obtained its own constitution in 1975, ostensibly making it a self-governing autonomous territory. The Northern Areas, which were still ruled directly by Islamabad, were not included by the constitution (the Frontier crimes regulation was discontinued in 1997 and repealed only in 2018). In actuality, the Kashmir Council remained under the supervision of Pakistan’s federal administration and security establishment.
STATUS OF THE PROVINCE RIGHT NOW
Imran Khan declared on November 1, 2020, “Independence Day” in Gilgit-Baltistan, that his government would grant the territory “provisional provincial status.” In March of this year, the newly elected Assembly unanimously passed a resolution calling for a constitutional revision to declare Gilgit-Baltistan a provincial province of Pakistan, “without prejudice to the Kashmir dispute.”
According to Dawn, Imran Khan urged his law minister to expedite a draught bill to make Gilgit-Baltistan a province in July, and the bill has now been finished as the 26th Constitutional Amendment Bill and handed to him. Because of its role as part of the unresolved Kashmir dispute, the draught law is thought to suggest that Gilgit-Baltistan be granted Praveen Provincial status by altering Article 1 of the constitution. When the change in status occurs, it will satisfy a long-standing demand of Gilgit-1.5 Baltistan’s million people. There is resentment toward Pakistan for releasing sectarian militant groups that target Shias, but the general consensus is that once they join the Pakistani Federation, everything would be better. There is a modest pro-independence movement, but it is not very active.
While some reports have suggested that Pakistan’s decision was influenced by China, which is concerned that Gilgit-ambiguous Baltistan’s status could jeopardise the legality of its projects there, there is also speculation that this could be a precursor to Pakistan accepting India’s August 5 changes abolishing Kashmir’s special status.
Surya Pratap, Law Student at Galgotias University & Associate Editor at Lasdes E-Journal, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org