The 28,174 sq mi mountainous area of Gilgit Baltistan was part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir under British paramountcy. Due to local resistance against Dogra and Indian Occupation, Gilgit and Baltistan came under Pakistan’s control in 1947 and 1948, respectively. With over 2 million people, the region is paradise on Earth due to its majestic beauty, snow-capped mountains, beautiful valleys and orchards. On the other hand, along with the aesthetic scenic beauty, the entire region is also geographically important. It’s proximity with China, India, Tajikistan and Pakistan, three of which are nuclear powers.
Since independence in Gilgit-Baltistan, it is our misfortune that many movements took place at the local level, and parties came into existence and ended. Still, it is a pity that any party has failed the people here. Moreover, it did not fight for rights and showed good conscience for only a few privileged lots. The same people have been given privileges and positions so that the rest of the nation refrains from talking about its rights. The slot of CM and Governor was first introduced in 2009 under Governance Order 2009 in Gilgit Baltistan. In the last five decades, ruling political parties in the federal governments have introduced various ordinances and laws for Gilgit-Baltistan. Still, they have not significantly impacted the living standards of the people here. Claims of laying the groundwork for development were made but had no far-reaching impact on the lives of ordinary people.
According to media reports, Pakistan will declare Gilgit-Baltistan to be a “full-fledged” province very soon. On September 21st, 2020, Pakistan’s ruling government and the opposition almost reached a consensus on granting “provisional provincial status” to Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) while agreed to hold consultations on the issue after the elections of its legislative Assembly. Later on, September 23rd,President Dr. Arif Alvi announced that elections for the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly would be held on November 15th, 2020. The onset of the election season in GB, all political and religious parties have come to the fore with full readiness and are engaged in giving hollow dreams to the people of Gilgit Baltistan.
Pakistan has implemented a provincial system since 2009, with its governor and chief minister, but legally the area does not enjoy the same constitutional rights as other provinces in Pakistan. After 1970, the system was run under various laws, but the local people have always demanded that Pakistan formally annex Gilgit-Baltistan and integrate it into Pakistan permanently. For constitutional and administrative reforms in Gilgit-Baltistan, a committee named Sartaj Aziz was formed under former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government under the supervision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Sartaj Aziz committee recommended making Baltistan a transitional province in which Gilgit-Baltistan will get three seats in the National Assembly and the Senate. At the same time, Gilgit-Baltistan representatives will be allowed to participate in the interim province under a special invitation. Kashmiris have been vehemently opposed to the demand of Gilgit Baltistan for the fifth province of Pakistan. They believe that Gilgit-Baltistan is part of the disputed territory and should remain so until the future of Kashmir is decided under UN resolutions. Kashmiris believe that the voice of Kashmir’s independence will be more effective in any future referendum if it includes the support of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Following the recent progress in making Gilgit-Baltistan a province, the Kashmir government has again expressed concern that if Gilgit-Baltistan is made a province, it would be more damaging than the 1971 tragedy.
In 1949, the Karachi Agreement was signed between the Government of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir and the All Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference to ratify administrative control of Pakistan over Gilgit-Baltistan without the consent of any representative body from the area. Under this agreement, if Gilgit-Baltistan is recognized constitutionally and legally by Pakistan, the Kashmir issue will face harm. That is why, in the past, Pakistan seemed reluctant to change the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan despite intense demands from the local population. Gilgit-Baltistan had SSR (State Subject Rule) till 1974, which was suspended by former Prime Minister of Pakistan Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, and State Subject Rule is still in force in Azad Jammu and Kashmir due to which Azad Jammu and Kashmir have its government. It has its own Supreme Court, Assembly, the Prime Minister, and the President. In Gilgit-Baltistan, the system is run on orders and special ordinances after the suspension of the SSR.
It is a fact that Gilgit-Baltistan has become increasingly important since the launch of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project (CPEC), and the eyes of the world are now on Gilgit-Baltistan. The region is also involved in the Great Game between the world’s great powers. It is noteworthy that the decision to form the government has signaled a new interim province. However, how it will happen, no details have been revealed. The idea behind creating an interim province is to move forward on the issue in a way that does not harm the Kashmir issue politically at the international level. To what extent will the province of Gilgit-Baltistan be like the other four provinces, and to what extent will its status be kept different? These are details that have not been disclosed. However, a change in the status quo of the region will completely change Gilgit-Baltistan’s relationship with Pakistan. Surprisingly, the fate of Gilgit-Baltistan was being decided between the Pakistani political parties, but no representative of Gilgit-Baltistan was present in the high up meeting. Was it not considered necessary to include a representative of Gilgit-Baltistan in it? While making any decision regarding the future of Gilgit-Baltistan, it is essential to consider the people of Gilgit-Baltistan or take them into confidence. If Pakistan opposes India’s move to create a Union Territory by removing the special status of Kashmir without taking Kashmiris into confidence, then Pakistan needs to take the people of Gilgit-Baltistan into confidence before taking any vital decision regarding Gilgit-Baltistan.
Recent developments in making Gilgit-Baltistan a province show that the establishment wants to take this issue forward as Gilgit-Baltistan has become the most important for Pakistan’s sovereignty. It would be premature to say whether the ruling government will reach a fruitful stage without hurting Pakistan’s position on the Kashmir issue at the international level apart from amending the constitution with the full cooperation of the opposition. But by empowering the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly as much as possible and incorporating the views of local people before any decision can be made, the frustrations of the 2 million population over the past 73 years can be alleviated.
Tehzeeb Hussain Bercha is a writer and poet hailing from Gilgit Baltistan. He is a graduate in Urdu Literature from Allama Iqbal Open University, Islamabad. His main areas of interest are literature and gender, social issues and peace, philosophy, and politics focusing Northern Areas of Pakistan.