Gilgit-Baltistan: Caught Between A Rock and A Hard Place
This report is edited by a team of researchers at the Centre of Social & Political Centre including Dr Agha Ibrahim, Muhammad Haris, Farid Bin Masood, Nausheen Samad, Duaa Sohail & Hassan Akhtar Siddiqui.
This report is written and published in accordance with the Centre of Social & Political Centre’s Policy on Intellectual Independence. The authors are solely responsible for their analysis and recommendations. The Centre of Social & Political Centre and its donors do not determine, nor necessarily endorse or advocate for, any of this report’s conclusions.
Situated in the midst of the world’s highest mountain ranges Gilgit Baltistan comes under the part of a larger dispute between India and Pakistan over the long-running conflict of Kashmir. The territory has been disputed between Pakistan’s governing structure and international conflict surrounding the state of Jammu and Kashmir. As a result, Gilgit Baltistan holds an ambiguous status that defines it neither as an administrative part of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) nor as a separate province of Pakistan. It is this ambiguity in defining the nature of the region that has transpired deep into its political dynamics. The chain of events that have once again raised questions on its status started on 5 August 2019 when the Government of India revoked the special status granted to Indian occupied Kashmir. This led the topic of Kashmir to rise again at both the international and local levels. Now a year later Kashmir is once again in the headlines after the Government of Pakistan disclosed its intention of making Gilgit Baltistan the fifth province of Pakistan.
This report entails a detailed account of the mixed reactions that were received as a result. The first part of the paper covers the historical background that started with the division of the Indian subcontinent. Going into the history of the great divide the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir was carved up in different enclaves each laid claimed by the newly founded sovereign nations. Gilgit Baltistan was that region of Kashmir that revolted against its ruler and decided to join Pakistan. Despite the wishes of the people and the Government of Pakistan’s readiness to acknowledge it as a part of Pakistan, Gilgit Baltistan could not be granted the same constitutional rights as the rest of the provinces due to the United Nations resolution of declaring Kashmir a disputed territory. Now the recent decision by the government to provide Gilgit Baltistan with the provincial status is warmly welcomed by its people. They see it as a long-awaited answer for their grievances. While on the other hand the reactions being elevated by Kashmiri nationalists strongly oppose and condemn a move of this nature as they believe that it would negatively inflict the Kashmiri cause for a united land. This attitude is also shared by the people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir who see Gilgit Baltistan as a part of their region which should be treated as a whole and advocate for them the constitutional rights but not the provincial status that will declare the region as the fifth province of Pakistan.
These unheard voices from the Himalayas that have shown their position are also the ones that are the major stakeholder in any ordinance that will be passed. What Pakistan needs to consider is the aftermath that will befall if the decision is to be passed. The retort that is coming from the people of Kashmir outlines serious implications that might severely impact Pakistan’s plea for Kashmir on the international level. The government should avoid any drastic step that might prove detrimental in the long run. Instead, Pakistan should reassess its position and review its policies for both Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. By providing the regions with more autonomy, implementing progressive administrative and constitutional reforms there can be a way to develop these regions and ease the plights of their people without compromising the Kashmiri cause in its totality. The history of Gilgit Baltistan may be tied to the region of Kashmir, but their identity is completely separate. It is a vital task to establish this truth in Pakistan, because it forms the basis for their desire to live independently of Kashmir. People must be reminded that Pakistan itself was founded on a principle not much different. The language, culture, ethnicity and identity of Gilgit Baltistan must be recognized and celebrated separately from the Kashmir narrative.
Fortunately, Pakistan’s forte is its great success in establishing diplomatic relations with China and its strategic partners. If the country continues in its path of playing ally, then the goal becomes relatively easy to achieve. Pakistan’s land holds great strategic importance, and the international community is witness to this. It is time for Pakistan to act accordingly and set agendas on its own terms.
Keywords: Gilgit Baltistan, Kashmir, AJK, Provincial Status, Self Determination, Constitutional Rights