The press conference conducted by the federal minister of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan, Ali Amin Gandapur, announced elections for the Gilgit Baltistan assembly on November 15, 2020. And at the same time, the federal minister circulated the news of granting provisional provincial autonomy to Gilgit Baltistan, which Prime Minister Imran Khan would officially announce soon. This news has brought in sharp reactions from the neighbor India. It has irked the Indian leadership exhaustively. It has also invoked many considerations and possible consequences have started to pour in on this decision.
Gilgit-Baltistan: swinging from Indian updated map to Pakistan’s updated map
Firstly, it is obscure whether the people of Gilgit Baltistan would be given a provisional or full-fledged provincial autonomy. Pakistan updated its map last month by including the Gilgit Baltistan region to the Azad Jammu & Kashmir. It was an ostensible response to India’s perpetual violence on the Indian Occupied Kashmir, and mainly because of India’s move of updating its map and including Gilgit Baltistan in the IOK. But, granting GB the status of a province is a paradoxical move by Pakistan, a country struggling to emancipate the Kashmiris from the Indian occupation since 1947.
Pakistan has been making moves to help Kashmiris get their right to self-determination. This inclusion of Gilgit Baltistan in its map is a contradiction in itself to Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir. It can be wholly regarded as a marked departure in Pakistan’s principle position on Jammu and Kashmir. It has been deeply rooted in unflinching support to the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri region.
Making Gilgit-Baltistan 5th province will weaken Pakistan stance on IOK
It is highly apprehensive of the fact that this possible autonomy could be limited and conditional. The government needs to realize that most people of Gilgit Baltistan are not willing to accept anything but a fully-fledged provincial autonomy. If the Pakistani government grants a provisional autonomous status to Gilgit Baltistan without considering the will of the people of GB, it would mean inevitable distress for Pakistan and its stand on Kashmir, which is engraved in the will of the Kashmiri people. Anything less than a referendum among Gilgit Baltistan’s public and a full-fledged provincial status will deepen the Pakistani government’s ignorance to entertain the demands of the people of Gilgit Baltistan.
Chinese interests in Gilgit-Baltistan: a headache for India
On the other hand, Narendra Modi’s abiding resolve on nationalism and expansionism made him include Gilgit Baltistan in Indian claimed territory, which has been under Pakistan since 1947. If Modi continues his efforts to claim Gilgit Baltistan as India’s territory, it can cost him a lot because India would be risking a two-front war with China and Pakistan in doing so. The Indian interest is due to the proximity of the Gilgit Baltistan region is to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passes through this region, which India has stiffly opposed since day one. CPEC has vital economic and strategic importance for the Asian superpower China under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). So, any Indian plans or pronouncements on Gilgit Baltistan are bound to compel both China and Pakistan, which already have a robust partnership, into responding in a resolute and coordinated manner. It can cost India its military and economic resources immensely because of the undying fidelity between Pakistan and China.
Modi’s government has been making efforts to bring Gilgit Baltistan into focus from last year since it scrapped off article 370 of the Indian Constitution and simultaneously bifurcated the occupied areas into Kashmir and Ladakh. But India’s very own former Army Chief General Bipin Rawat has warned India to be prepared for a full-fledged two-front war with mighty China and its amicable partner Pakistan which also happens to be India’s adversary since 1947. The India-China military standoff in the unfortunate Galwan Valley incident has precipitated the worst ever crisis in their relationship since the Sino-Indian war of 1962. It took almost 14 years after the war to re-establish the diplomatic ties and 12 more years before an Indian Prime Minister traveled to Beijing.
Gilgit-Baltistan autonomy will stiff ties between nuclear neighbors more
In the latest Gilgit Baltistan autonomy chaos, a new armed conflict turned a rainbow dancing over the wild waves at the LAC. It could similarly push back the relations between the Himalayan neighbors for a very long time to come. This development could cause alarming instability in the Asian region. So what will India and Pakistan gain from this relentless claim on the Gilgit Baltistan region, which can only lead to a possible unwinnable war among three critical states of Asian region?
Putting weight in the wills of Gilgit-Baltistan citizens will make things easier for Pakistan
If Pakistan is to avoid any addition to the list of already existing massive reasons for a military face-off with India, it will have to consider the will of the public of GB on the autonomy status. A starting point can be the incorporation of the existing Governance Order 2018 in the Constitution of Pakistan. And a national consensus among all the stakeholders for integrating the region into a federation through a formal constitutional amendment would further please the public of Gilgit Baltistan. This precaution could potentially save Pakistan from the devastations of a possible military confrontation with India. It’s about time that Pakistan starts making moves out of intellect and diplomacy rather than rushing things and become a significant contributor to regional peace.
Ali Asad has completed his masters in Political Studies from the University of the Punjab. His main area of interest is in capacity building, governance, education, human development, socio-political and socio-economic state of affairs in the South East Asian region; focusing Pakistan. He is pursuing M Phil in Public Policy.