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Featured Giving Gilgit-Baltistan provincial status could be a political masterstroke

Chakar The Great

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In a major shift of a longstanding policy, Pakistan is set to elevate Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) to the status of a ‘provisional’ province. With this single move, Pakistan secures vital geostrategic, economic, and energy interests, and at the same time fulfills G-B’s most enduring demand for constitutional recognition. The move also strengthens Pakistan’s Kashmir stance at the United Nations (UN), instead of weakening it as is assumed, since it gives constitutional protection to the ‘material change’ clause of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution on Kashmir. The material change clause of the UNSC resolution prevents both India and Pakistan from changing the demographic and cultural landscape of the regions in their respective control. While India revoked Kashmir’s special status to effect ‘material change’ there, Pakistan’s elevation of G-B honors the clause.






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Unlike previous tinkering with the governance laws of G-B through easily reversible executive orders issued by the prime minister, this elevation will be sweeping and permanent as it will be carried out through an amendment to Pakistan’s constitution. Of course, the news has sent waves of enthusiasm across G-B, which has been demanding the recognition for 73 years now. It may just be pre-election gimmickry as the general elections are scheduled for November 15th this year, as was the case before the general elections of 2014 and 2009. But that’s unlikely because of the existence of two powerful variables this time: the army and the Chinese.

While the army purportedly withheld upgradation moves on two previous occasions, it’s the army taking the initiative and building the consensus this time around. That begs the question, what is the army thinking, or has there been a shift in how the military views the Kashmir dispute post Narendra Modi’s power move of August 5, 2019 when he stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its special status? It is hypothesised that a number of important factors drove this policy change. These factors are significant, and therefore the government must act quickly and decisively to make it a province as Pakistan may not find an ideal opportunity like the one presented by Modi’s Kashmir move and the ongoing China-India border spat.

The policy shift is pragmatic and optimally timed, and seizes the opportunity opened by Modi’s self-defeating move of scrapping Kashmir’s special status and China's military campaign against India in Ladakh. Giving constitutional cover to G-B was overdue, and the threat of a military response by India to it may have deterred Pakistan in the past, but with China keeping India busy in Ladakh, the Indian response may come just in the form of an escalation of cross-border firing.

China’s military action against India is also triggered by Modi’s Kashmir move itself. The Chinese have taken Indian territory and have shown no signs of disengaging. Both the armies are digging in and bracing for the harsh winters of the Western Himalayas. That provides enough space for Pakistan to respond to India’s August 5, 2019 move in kind by turning G-B into a constitutional part of the federation of Pakistan, even if provisionally. Reports suggest that India and the US are likely to see China’s hand behind this, but Pakistan must act to protect a vital interest. In ordinary times, such a move would have drawn New Delhi’s ire, and possibly a military misadventure, but India’s LAC concerns with regards to China are still simmering, and the nation would be reluctant to open a front with Pakistan at the moment since every Indian military strategist would advise against a ‘Two Front War’’ with China and Pakistan. It has been India’s policy to deal with China and Pakistan one at a time since a two-front war would be devastating for India’s military.

Hence, the move not only serves as a rebuke to Modi’s Kashmir bravado but also re-establishes a political deterrence against India, which was upended by Pakistan’s failure to respond proportionately to Modi’s move in Kashmir. It also raises the costs on India’s rash behavior in the future. While Modi’s revocation of Kashmir’s status was hugely unpopular with the people of Kashmir, and India had to enforce a yearlong lockdown of the whole state, Pakistan’s elevation of the status is highly popular with people of G-B, who are already anticipating the move.

The advantages of having G-B as a constitutional province is self-evident for the purposes of protecting the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), legalising and securing funding for Diamer-Bhasha Dam, economic development, and meeting the chief seven-decade old demand of the people of G-B, among other economic and strategic needs of both China and Pakistan.

Ending the statelessness of G-B

Ending the statelessness of the people of G-B is acquiring new importance given the flux in great power relations in South and West Asia. Pakistan turned G-B into a colonial holding, which is the only region that fought a war to become part of Pakistan, betraying the trust and loyalty of the people. Three generations have endured statelessness and grueling political and psychosocial disorientation in G-B. In a world where the nation state determines the primary political identity of the people, not having one to fully own has been to G-B what living without a name for an individual would be: disorienting, maddening, and dehumanising. Despite such cognitive confusion and pain, the people of G-B have been loyal to the country, including contributing a full regiment to the Pakistan Army – the NLI, which has been the star performer in the Kargil War, winning two Nishan-e-Haider, and leading the battle against terrorism in ex-FATA.

Long deprivation has also alienated a significant number of people from the state, and separatist voices have strengthened. While that sentiment is still on the fringes, the general sense of deprivation is still present in G-B. In fact, the Supreme Court of Pakistan in 1999, irked by the subpar treatment of G-B by the federal government, had asked it to initiate measures to give adequate representation to the people of G-B, and their right to the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution of Pakistan.

Legitimising and protecting CPEC and other foreign investments

The move legalises CPEC and other foreign investments in G-B. Since there is so much at stake with regards to CPEC, G-B being a disputed territory understandably makes the Chinese anxious. It’s important to assuage Chinese concerns about the safety of the massive $60 billion investment. The Chinese have been urging Pakistan to turn GB into a province for 20 years, and the time is definitely ripe now. A report in the South China Morning Post quoted analysts who believe that India and America would see the move to be influenced by China, and that India is likely to react strongly to this move as being provocative. Now while it is quite possible that China is encouraging Pakistan to go ahead with the move, it is important that Pakistan go through with this move to safeguard its own interests.

It’s not just the CPEC investment that needs legal assurances, but other foreign and domestic capital has been unwilling to come to G-B citing the legal mess that plagues the region. International Finance Corporation, a component of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, that advises, and finances investments is being wooed by the G-B government to encourage investors to G-B without much success, but the legal change opens the possibility of huge private investments in certain industries in G-B.


Private sector development

Economic development in Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) has also been a casualty of G-B’s statelessness. According to the World Bank, G-B’s vague legal status and fragile governance structure discourages investors from investing in the region. Giving G-B provincial status will remove these roadblocks and help spur economic growth in the region, especially attracting private sector investment which has been highlighted by the G-B government to the national government and other international development partners like the World Bank as one of the major development issues of G-B. Issues of economic integration, regional linkages and trade that have kept G-B as, arguably, the least industrially developed part of Pakistan. Tourism and mineral industries can easily prove to be great sources of indigenous drivers for jobs and growth. Once these areas are established, they can provide their own revenues for public investment in infrastructure and hydropower generation to power more development projects. G-B already has a highly educated human resource that can provide the social and economic basis of further economic growth.

Securing funding for the Diamer-Bhasha Dam

It has been 20 years since the first groundbreaking ceremony of the Diamer-Bhasha Dam and is still suffering from many issues including funding problems. International development partners often point to the disputed status of G-B to refuse funding. Both the Asian Development Bank, which the Pakistani government had decided to approach first, and the World Bank backed out of funding the construction of the dam expected to cost a whopping $14 billion dollars. Upgrading G-B to the status of a provisional province removes those roadblocks. The dam’s generation of 4500MW of power is critical for meeting Pakistan’s chronic power shortages, helping Pakistan’s irrigation system, and also for managing the ever-increasing rate of flooding in the lowlands of Pakistan.

Joint development of G-B and Xinjiang

Legalising Pakistan’s control over G-B also raises the prospects of an important suggestion floated by the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan: joint development of the GB-Xinjiang region as sister provinces, and to turn them into a single economic and strategic theatre at the BRI’s point of origin. Such a venture will not just give an international flair to BRI’s starting point, but will also bring innumerable economic, strategic, and cultural benefits to Pakistan via Central Asia, West Asia and Eastern Europe.

The Pakistani government, media organisations, and the people of G-B need to highlight and push for this joint venture as it will plug Pakistan into an economic, infrastructure, strategic and cultural matrix that will further the country’s interests. It is important here to mention that G-B is also connected overland to Central Asia, separated only by a strip of Afghan territory – Wakhan, a former Pakistani territory ceded by British India to Afghanistan to create a buffer zone between British India and the Soviet Union.

The shape of the ‘provisional’ province

While the benefits of making G-B a province are clear and straightforward, the shape that the province will take is still unclear. In all likelihood it will be closer to the one recommended by the high-powered committee led by Sartaj Aziz in 2018. But before that the government will have to withdraw the review petition in the Supreme Court on its judgment of January 17, 2019 regarding the governance law for G-B.

The Sartaj Aziz led committee recommended a provisional province by amending Article 51 and 59 of the Constitution of Pakistan, curiously leaving out the territory-defining Article 1 of the constitution. It also recommended three general seats in the National Assembly, one for each of the three divisions of G-B, namely Gilgit, Baltistan, and the Diamer Divisions. An additional fourth seat for women was to be added by amending Article 51(4). Three special Senate seats were also to be created by amending article 59. The reason quoted for not including G-B in Article 1 was to protect Pakistan’s stance on the Kashmir dispute at the UN.

All legislative powers enjoyed by the rest of the provinces can be extended to the G-B Assembly by amending Article 142 and the Fourth Schedule. Membership to constitutional bodies like the National Economic Council, the National Finance Commission and other bodies was to be by “special invite”, meaning not full membership. The recommendations fall short of the aspirations of G-B’s people. First, the number of seats in the National Assembly must at least be five, and the number of Senate members should be equal to all the other provinces. The membership to constitutional bodies must be constitutionally mandatory, especially the two most important of those, the National Economic Council and the National Finance Commission that decide development projects and division of resources between the federating units. Keeping G-B out of them will make any elevation of status toothless because it will be denied its share of financial and development resources.

Devolving judicial powers to G-B is a particularly urgent need. One of the travesties of justice has been the total absence of an independent system of justice in G-B. The people of G-B have been denied access to the highest court of law in the country, the Supreme Court of Pakistan. Decisions of life and death, and imprisonment have been decided by a weak judiciary vulnerable to local executive authority. Establishment of the country’s fifth High Court must accompany the change of the legal status of G-B. It must also extend the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to the entire territory and citizens of G-B so that they have the same access to justice that their compatriots in the other provinces of the country have.

On all accounts, the move is, if played at all, a political masterstroke for the purposes of strategy, security, and economy. It is time to reward the patience and loyalty of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.
 

Jf Thunder

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I think this just means that the Kashmir issue is just being killed off
India keeps what they have, and we keep what we have
who gives a damn about what the Kashmiris think
 

Zapper

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That would completely defeat pak's narrative on A370. Might as well make LoC the new IB
 

AgNoStiC MuSliM

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I think this just means that the Kashmir issue is just being killed off
India keeps what they have, and we keep what we have
who gives a damn about what the Kashmiris think
It's a tough situation - on the one hand we have to be careful about not nullifying the UNSC Resolutions and not hanging the Kashmiris out to dry, but on the other hand the people of GB have always seen themselves as distinct from Kashmiris and have long been demanding that they be given equal status as citizens and a province of Pakistan.

You have to understand that provincial status for GB, with the 18th amendment in play, gives the elected provincial government of GB a significant amount of control over their own affairs and a say in various projects which is extremely important to the locals.
 

AgNoStiC MuSliM

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A very interesting account of the history of Gilgit Baltistan and the events around Gilgit-Baltistan revolting against the Maharajah, quoting some of the principal figures involved:

"Why did Major William Brown, a British officer, join his Muslim colleagues in the Gilgit Scouts in hoisting the Pakistan flag in Gilgit? A plausible explanation is given in an excellent research paper ‘Three Forgotten Accessions: Gilgit, Hunza and Nagar’ by Pakistani scholar Yaqoob Khan Bangash, author of A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-1955, and a strong votary of peace and friendship between Pakistan and India:

“By the middle of 1947 news of communal tensions had reached Gilgit and in a place where Hindu Dogras were despised for their heavy-handedness during the conflicts to subdue Gilgit, stories of Muslims being slaughtered by Hindus and Sikhs in the Punjab inflamed passions against the small minorities of Hindus and Sikhs in Gilgit.”

Major Brown was well aware of the anti-maharaja sentiments among the people in Gilgit. In his subsequent account of the episode in his book Gilgit Rebellion: The Major Who Mutinied Over Partition of India he wrote:

“I shuddered at the thought of the havoc which would follow a decision by the ruler of Kashmir to join India. The blame for the widespread destruction of life and property would lie directly on the British government. I therefore felt it was my duty, as the only Britisher left, to follow a course which would prevent this … partisan, traitor, revolutionary, I may have been, but that evening my sentiments dictated that if the maharaja acceded to India, then I would forego all allegiance to him and I would not rest content until I had done the utmost in my power to ensure that the Gilgit province joined Pakistan.”

The pro-Pakistan sentiment in Gilgit, actively supported by Major Brown, also put an end to the voices that called for Gilgit’s independence from Pakistan, India and the Dogra king. Furthermore, he also prevailed upon the rulers (Mirs) of the two dependencies of the Gilgit Agency – Hunza and Nagar – to join Pakistan in the first week of November 1947. According to a diary entry by George Cunningham, then governor of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and one to whom Major Brown reported, the accession of these areas to Pakistan happened without any communal violence and “within two days all the Hindu and Sikh shops were open as usual”. There is also no record of popular resistance to their accession to Pakistan, or of people’s demand for accession to India, at the time. This basic fact – namely, their sense of belonging to Pakistan – has remained unchanged in the past seven decades, even though it is undoubtedly true that they have been agitating against successive Pakistani governments’ failure to grant them equal constitutional status.

...

 

Silverblaze

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A very interesting account of the history of Gilgit Baltistan and the events around Gilgit-Baltistan revolting against the Maharajah, quoting some of the principal figures involved:

"Why did Major William Brown, a British officer, join his Muslim colleagues in the Gilgit Scouts in hoisting the Pakistan flag in Gilgit? A plausible explanation is given in an excellent research paper ‘Three Forgotten Accessions: Gilgit, Hunza and Nagar’ by Pakistani scholar Yaqoob Khan Bangash, author of A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-1955, and a strong votary of peace and friendship between Pakistan and India:

“By the middle of 1947 news of communal tensions had reached Gilgit and in a place where Hindu Dogras were despised for their heavy-handedness during the conflicts to subdue Gilgit, stories of Muslims being slaughtered by Hindus and Sikhs in the Punjab inflamed passions against the small minorities of Hindus and Sikhs in Gilgit.”

Major Brown was well aware of the anti-maharaja sentiments among the people in Gilgit. In his subsequent account of the episode in his book Gilgit Rebellion: The Major Who Mutinied Over Partition of India he wrote:

“I shuddered at the thought of the havoc which would follow a decision by the ruler of Kashmir to join India. The blame for the widespread destruction of life and property would lie directly on the British government. I therefore felt it was my duty, as the only Britisher left, to follow a course which would prevent this … partisan, traitor, revolutionary, I may have been, but that evening my sentiments dictated that if the maharaja acceded to India, then I would forego all allegiance to him and I would not rest content until I had done the utmost in my power to ensure that the Gilgit province joined Pakistan.”

The pro-Pakistan sentiment in Gilgit, actively supported by Major Brown, also put an end to the voices that called for Gilgit’s independence from Pakistan, India and the Dogra king. Furthermore, he also prevailed upon the rulers (Mirs) of the two dependencies of the Gilgit Agency – Hunza and Nagar – to join Pakistan in the first week of November 1947. According to a diary entry by George Cunningham, then governor of North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and one to whom Major Brown reported, the accession of these areas to Pakistan happened without any communal violence and “within two days all the Hindu and Sikh shops were open as usual”. There is also no record of popular resistance to their accession to Pakistan, or of people’s demand for accession to India, at the time. This basic fact – namely, their sense of belonging to Pakistan – has remained unchanged in the past seven decades, even though it is undoubtedly true that they have been agitating against successive Pakistani governments’ failure to grant them equal constitutional status.

...

The irony is Pakistani bureaucracy was so incompetent that on Nov 1st 47, the Gilgit Scouts revolted and asked Pakistan to send a political agent. Pakistan sent a political agent on the 16th of nov 47, more than 2 weeks while hindus sent the army the next day after their hindu maharaja called them.
 

Jf Thunder

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It's a tough situation - on the one hand we have to be careful about not nullifying the UNSC Resolutions and not hanging the Kashmiris out to dry, but on the other hand the people of GB have always seen themselves as distinct from Kashmiris and have long been demanding that they be given equal status as citizens and a province of Pakistan.

You have to understand that provincial status for GB, with the 18th amendment in play, gives the elected provincial government of GB a significant amount of control over their own affairs and a say in various projects which is extremely important to the locals.
will that stand with the UNSC? And with a country like India who is a master of propaganda
 

AgNoStiC MuSliM

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The irony is Pakistani bureaucracy was so incompetent that on Nov 1st 47, the Gilgit Scouts revolted and asked Pakistan to send a political agent. Pakistan sent a political agent on the 16th of nov 47, more than 2 weeks while hindus sent the army the next day after their hindu maharaja called them.
It was 1947, Pakistan was a newly formed political entity out of British India. We barely had a functioning government at the time. Resources were still being divided, government infrastructure established. Remember that the British set up most of the government infrastructure etc in what became the newly created nation of India.
 

pikkuboss

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It is what we expect from from Pakistan claiming full control over whatever they have and India take full control of whatever we have. Case closed.
 

vishwambhar

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This will be really good for whole south Asia..... Pakistan merges GILGIT BALTISTAN and India has already merged what she wants...... after this both countries should sit and sign peace deal and look forward towards economic development......
 

Silverblaze

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It was 1947, Pakistan was a newly formed political entity out of British India. We barely had a functioning government at the time. Resources were still being divided, government infrastructure established. Remember that the British set up most of the government infrastructure etc in what became the newly created nation of India.
True, India attacked Pakistan's human, military and economic resources even Auchinleck had to say this. Pakistan was under fire from Afghanistan-russian, Indian and this bacha khan nexus. All this is true.

But please understand we didn't even appoint a single ministry for integration of princely states like India.
On 15 aug 1947, Hindus emerged with over 540 princely states already annexed and Pakistan had zero. Why?

We were sending ambassadors all over the world, and sending delegations to the Joint Defense Council meetings in delhi, but could not appoint few senior members for a commission on Kashmir at least. It was all left to Jinnah (R.A) who was terminally ill.

Why didn't we manage to have Hyderabad's accession request the next day after Kashmir was invaded by india? Why didn't we ask for partition or zonal plebiscite etc after the muslim conference warned Pakistan govt. Even the Punjab police is accused of switching the new weapons meant for tribal militias with old ones.

Sadly, many more questions like this will never be answered because the govt and bureaucracy was and is incompetent nobody would want to admit they were incompetent.

Pakistan army and the paramilitary got us a piece of Kashmir to the best of their ability.

If we read british assessments at that time, it is depressing.

Its just so sad to read the gross negligence, corruption and incompetence. Its still continuing today. GB integration is being exploited for political gains and is being impeded.
 

HalfMoon

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This is a masterstroke by PMIK.

India can no longer claim GB once GB becomes a province of Pakistan. :chilli:
 

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