Pakistan’s resolve to elevate Gilgit-Baltistan to the status of a full-fledged province has predictably ruffled feathers to the east of the Radcliffe Line.
India has been consistent in its stand that the Government in Islamabad or its judiciary has no locus standi in areas that have been “illegally” or “forcibly occupied” by Pakistan.
India has often iterated its stand that the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, including the areas of Gilgit-Baltistan, are an integral part of this country by virtue of its fully legal and irrevocable accession. In effect, there will be five provinces across the western flank in addition to the historically dominant Punjab, Sind, NWFP and Baluchistan, not to forget the federally-administered Khyber Pakhtunkwha whose MP happens to be the Prime Minister, Imran Khan.
Going by present indications, the elevation will be marked by suitable grandstanding, with Mr Khan scheduled to visit Gilgit-Baltistan very shortly to make the formal announcement. The area will be given adequate recognition in all constitutional entities, notably the National Assembly and the Senate.
After consultation with all stakeholders, the federal government in Islamabad has decided in principle to give constitutional rights to Gilgit-Baltistan. The move has been vehemently rejected by India not the least because of Pakistan’s frequent efforts to bring about changes in the Pakistan-occupied areas of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Ministry of External Affairs wants Pakistan to immediately vacate all areas under its “illegal occupation”. Another announcement by Imran Khan’s government that is expected to benefit Pakistan is that work on the Moqpondass Special Economic Zone will begin under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC ). The CPEC, which connects Gwadar port in Baluchistan province with China’s Xinjiang province, is the flagship project of China’s multi-billion dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The CPEC showcases infrastructure and other projects under construction in Pakistan since 2013. Originally valued at $46 billion, the projects were worth more than $60 billion as of 2017. India has protested to China against CPEC as well as it is being laid through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. More basically, the upgrade of Gilgit-Baltistan represents a new spin to Pakistan’s geo-strategy.
The government is quite obviously playing to the local gallery. It is obvious too that Islamabad is intent on using the PoK ~ a geographical symbol of a festering bilateral dispute ~ to give an impetus to its game theory at a critical juncture for India, which is fast approaching the United States of America in terms of coronavirus afflictions and deaths. India has already surpassed South Africa and Brazil. On closer reflection, the upgrade of Gilgit-Baltistan is arguably of lesser moment in the overall construct.