Gilgit-Baltistan On the Horns of a Dilemma

India claims the entire erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir based on an instrument of accession signed in 1947. Pakistan claims Jammu and Kashmir based on its majority Muslim population, whereas China claims the Shaksam Valley and Aksai Chin.

Sir Mohammad Zafrullah Khan, Pakistani foreign minister and delegate to the United Nations made it clear on January 16, 1948, during the 228th meeting of the Security Council that Gilgit-Baltistan is the part of the State of Jammu & Kashmir. Here is the part of his eloquent speech: “The population of Kashmir is distributed communally as follows: In Kashmir proper, apart from Jammu, 93.5 percent are Muslims. Sixty-two percent of the population of Jammu are Muslims. Gilgit, which is the high mountain region is entirely Muslim. The total area of the state, which is largely composed of high mountains and barren hills, is 82,000 square miles.

Now, if it is true that Pakistan plans to elevate Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) to a full-fledged province with all constitutional rights, it will unwittingly disturb the disputed nature of the State of the Jammu & Kashmir. It will be akin to the unilateral action taken by Narendra Modi on August 5, 2019, when Article 370 & 35 A were abrogated. Both these actions will be in violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions # 91 of 1951 and 122 and 126 of 1957.

These resolutions categorically state: “Affirming that the convening of a Constituent Assembly as recommended by the General Council of the ‘All Jammu and Kashmir National Conference’ and any action that Assembly might attempt to take to determine the future shape and affiliation of the entire State or any part thereof would not constitute a disposition of the State in accordance with the above principle.”

So as bottom lines go, say what you want about Gilgit Baltistan. Do as you wish. It will not affect the status of what constitutes the whole of Jammu and Kashmir or its parts as a disputed territory.

The plan was announced by Ali Amin Gandapur, Minister of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit – Baltistan on September 17, 2020. He further said that the people of GB would be given representation in the Senate and the National Assembly of Pakistan.

Obviously, if Pakistan makes Gilgit Baltistan the province of Pakistan, then India has all the right, perhaps not legal but as a matter of principle, to justify her stand that Indian occupied Jammu & Kashmir is an integral part of India. And on what justification will Pakistan protest? As the saying goes, what is good for the goose may also be good for the gander.

Mr. Gandapur’s intentions are not questionable but his statement is. He is a seasoned politician, coming from a province (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), which has historically made a lot of sacrifices for the cause of Kashmir.

Pakistan has continually made Indian-occupied Kashmir an international issue and brought it frequently to the attention of the UN for human rights abuses, and rightly so. Just this week, on September 14, 2020, Ambassador Munir Akram said, “He (Imran Khan) is expected once again to project the just cause of the Kashmiri people and call for action by the international community to halt India’s massive violations of human rights, rescind the unilateral measures imposed in Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu & Kashmir since 5 August 2019 and promote a solution in accordance with the Security Council resolutions and the will of the Kashmiri people.”

Ambassador Munir Akram has forced India to adopt a defensive posture in respect to its unilateral action taken in August 2019. But Mr. Gandapur inadvertently provides India a cover to shield her illegal and unconstitutional action taken in Indian occupied Kashmir.

It is obvious, however, that making GB the fifth province of Pakistan isn’t going to fly with anyone. The pro-resistance leadership in Kashmir certainly isn’t going to. Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, and Mohammad Yasin Malik said in March 2016 when such a proposal was being floated by Riaz Hussain Pirzada, Pakistan’s minister for inter-provincial coordination. “Any proposal to declare Gilgit-Baltistan as the fifth province of Pakistan is unacceptable as it is tantamount to changing the disputed nature of Kashmir.”

Quite understandably, Mian Nawaz Sharif, then the Prime Minister of Pakistan wrote to Mohammad Yasin Malik, Chairman Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front on March 18, 2016, “I would like to make it unambiguously clear that Pakistan is fully aware of the sensitivities attached to Gilgit-Baltistan with regard to the Jammu & Kashmir dispute. Media speculations are a result of either misperceptions or misinterpretations… I would like to assure you that Pakistan will never compromise on its principle stance on the Jammu and Kashmir dispute which is based on the UN Security Council resolutions. Nor will Pakistan take any measure that may cause harm to the valiant struggle of the people of Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, for their inalienable right to self-determination, promised to them by the UN Security Council resolution.”

Likewise, Z. A.Bhutto, then the foreign minister of Pakistan wrote to the President of the Security Council on March 16, 1963. “It is necessary for me to point out the evident fact that the territory of Jammu & Kashmir is not a part, integral or otherwise, of the territory of the Union. The territory of Jammu & Kashmir belongs to the people of Jammu & Kashmir. It is a territory the future of which must be decided in accordance with the United Nations Commission’s resolution of plebiscite under the auspices of the United Nations to determine its accession to India or Pakistan. My Government is bound by its duty to declare before the Security Council that, pending the determination of the future of Kashmir through the will of the people impartially ascertained, no position is taken or adjustments made by either of the parties to the present controversy between India and China or any similar controversy in the future shall be valid or affect the status of the territory of Jammu & Kashmir laid down in the resolutions of the Security Council.”

One of the highly noted London-based Kashmiri scholar, Professor Zafar Khan says, “If Gilgit Baltistan is absorbed as 5th province into Pakistani Federation, Kashmiris of all hues, will consider such an action unfriendly by the Government of Pakistan, similar to the one, taken by the Narendra Modi government in Indian Occupied Jammu & Kashmir on 5 August 2019.”

We are equally thankful to the leadership of Azad Kashmir, be it the Muslim League, Nawaz; Muslim Conference; People Party of Pakistan; Jamaat-e-Islami; Azad Kashmir Peoples Party, and others who unanimously adopted a resolution in 2014 in the Azad Kashmir Assembly that “Making Gilgit-Baltistan a fifth province will weaken Pakistan’s national stand on Jammu and Kashmir at the international level.”

When I talked about this development to a former diplomat of Pakistan here in the United States, his instant reaction was, “With friends like these, Kashmir does not need an enemy.”

Obviously, making Gilgit-Baltistan a province of Pakistan will have disastrous consequences for the disputed territory of Jammu & Kashmir. Those willing to advance its cause among the international community will have lost a major ally.

The Kashmiri diaspora urges the Government of Pakistan to pay attention to the genuine grievances of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. The government should undertake mega projects for GB, be it development projects, education, health, roads, etc. There is no doubt that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan need immediate relief from the Government of Pakistan. It must be attended to immediately and not left for tomorrow.

As Justice Muzaffar Ali, former Judge of the Gilgit – Baltistan Supreme Appellate Court has said, “A prosperous Pakistan requires addressing of the grievances of GBians which are being felt by the educated youth of Gilgit–Baltistan bitterly.”

There can be various possibilities for addressing the issues of Gilgit-Baltistan. One: Let the people of Gilgit-Baltistan be given the choice to elect the Prime Minister and President as is the case in Azad Kashmir. It will have its own Supreme Court.

Currently, Gilgit-Baltistan has elected a Chief Minister as is the case in Punjab, Baluchistan, Khyber-Pakhtun, and Sindh. This gives the appearance as if GB is one of the provinces of Pakistan. This mistake needs to be rectified.

Whatever the shape and form of future governance, one possibility should be out of consideration, i.e., making it a province of Pakistan. Let’s not forget all the sacrifices given by the people of Jammu and Kashmir to exercise their right to self-determination.