Gilgit- Baltistan has remained a bone of contention between India and Pakistan since years. Now with the new proposal of Pakistan on the region, the political diplomacy among neighbouring countries is set to change.
- History of conflict between India and Pakistan
- Geographical location and its regions
- Its political, demographic and economic status
- In news
- Implications of the recent decision
- With the elevation of Gilgit-Baltistan’s status to that of a full-fledged province, it will be the fifth province of Pakistan.
- However India has conveyed to Pakistan that the entire UTs of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, including the areas of Gilgit and Baltistan, are an integral part of the country by virtue of its fully legal and irrevocable accession.
- The formal announcement to elevate Gilgit-Baltistan to the status of a full-fledged province with all constitutional rights is yet to be made.
- Gilgit-Baltistan would be given adequate representation on all constitutional bodies, including the National Assembly and the Senate.
- Amendments are suggested in Articles 51 and 59 of Pakistan’s Constitution that pertain to the legislative seats of various provinces in Pakistan’s National Assembly and Senate, respectively.
- With these amendments, additional seats will be earmarked for Gilgit-Baltistan in both houses of Parliament.
- However, no change is purportedly made to the Pakistani position that the final status of J&K is still to be decided.
- India has said that the Government of Pakistan or its judiciary has no locus standi on territories illegally and forcibly occupied by it.
Implications of the recent decision:
- The decision is an acknowledgment of the importance of the status quo as far as territorial control of the two countries of various parts of the former state, as it existed in 1947 before Partition, is concerned.
- The decision reinforces that the borders as they stand today between the two countries will not change and future modalities have to reflect that.
- The ambitious China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is the flagship project of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) passes through the region.
- The regional alliance between China and Pakistan will get broadened.
- The Chinese-constructed Karakoram highway runs through the region, paving the way for multi-faceted alliances with West Asia.
- The Shia majority in Gilgit-Baltistan provides a buffer to the Chinese state to check against the ‘export’ of Sunni extremist ideology to Xinjiang province and its impact on the Uighurs.
- The grant of provincial status to the region will further incentivise China to build more infrastructure projects.
- Because of the Shia population in Gilgit-Baltistan and Kargil district, there is also the impact of Iran on the two regions as many youngsters on either side of the LoC go there to study.
History of Conflict between India and Pakistan:
- Gilgit-Baltistan region, earlier known as Northern Areas, was formed by the amalgamation of the former Gilgit Agency, the Baltistan District of the Ladakh Wazarat and the hill states of Hunza and Nagar.
- It shares contiguous borders with China, Afghanistan and Kargil district of Ladakh.
- In 1935, the British had signed a 60-year lease with the princely ruler of J&K, Hari Singh, to take control of Gilgit agency.
- The British wanted to use the frontier belt as a base to check the growing Russian influence in the region.
- The lease ended with the end of the British rule over India and the region’s direct control returning legally to the princely ruler.
- The 1949 Karachi agreement signed between the Muslim Conference-led Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir (PoJK) and the Pakistan government separated the region from PoJK and gave direct control of the region to the federal government.
- For a number of years, Northern Areas Council, which became the legislative council, governed the region.
- Islamabad-based Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas was the executive head.
- On March 8, 1993, Chief Justice of the PoJK High Court, Justice Abdul Majeed Malik, gave a judgment where he questioned the legality of the Karachi agreement and declared the region to be a part of the territory of Jammu & Kashmir.
- In March 1999, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had ordered that the Northern Areas be given the same political, economic and administrative rights as given to the other provinces of Pakistan.
- On August 29, 2009, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced political reforms in Northern Areas and renamed the region as Gilgit-Baltistan by signing Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order, 2009.
- In 2018, a committee headed by Sartaj Aziz had recommended abolishment of the Islamabad-based Gilgit-Baltistan council.
- The recent reported decision to grant provincial status to the region is in line with these developments.
Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order, 2009:
- On 29 August 2009, the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009 was passed by the Government of Pakistan and later signed by the President.
- The order granted self-rule to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan, by creating an elected Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly and a Gilgit-Baltistan Council.
- The post of the Chief Minister was created to spread the notion that the region is governed by the locals.
- Gilgit-Baltistan thus gained de facto province-like status without constitutionally becoming part of Pakistan.
Geographical location and its regions:
- It is the northernmost territory administered by Pakistan.
- It borders Azad Kashmir to the south, the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the west, the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan to the north, the Xinjiang region of China, to the east and northeast, and the Indian-administered union territories Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh to the southeast.
- Gilgit-Baltistan is six times the size of Azad Kashmir.
- It is separated from Ladakh by the Line of Control (LOC), the de facto border between India and Pakistan.
- It is home to all five of Pakistan’s “eight-thousanders” and to more than fifty peaks above 7,000 metres.
- The important peaks include K-2, the second highest mountain in the world, Masherbrum (also known as K1), Broad Peak, Hidden Peak, Gasherbrum II, Gasherbrum IV, and Chogolisa.
- The main mountain ranges are the Karakoram and the western Himalayas.
- The Pamir Mountains are to the north and the Hindu Kush lies to the west.
- Three of the world’s longest glaciers outside the polar regions are found in Gilgit-Baltistan: the Biafo Glacier, the Baltoro Glacier, and the Batura Glacier.
- There are several high-altitude lakes like Sheosar Lake, Naltar lake, Satpara Tso Lake, Katzura Tso Lake, Zharba Tso Lake, Phoroq Tso Lake, Lake Kharfak, Byarsa Tso Lake, Borith Lake, Gilgit Rama Lake, Rush Lake, Kromber Lake, Barodaroksh Lake, Ghorashi Lake
- The Deosai Plains are located above the tree line and constitute the second-highest plateau in the world after Tibet.
- The village of Deosai is connected with the Kargil district of Ladakh through an all-weather road.
- There are more than 50,000 pieces of rock art (petroglyphs) and inscriptions all along the Karakoram Highway in Gilgit-Baltistan, concentrated at ten major sites between Hunza and Shatial.
- Within the next few centuries after human settlement in the Tibetan plateau, this region became inhabited by Tibetans, who preceded the Balti people of Baltistan.
- Today Baltistan bears similarity to Ladakh physically and culturally (although not religiously).
- Dards are found mainly in the western areas.
- In the 1st century, the people of these regions were followers of the Bon religion while in the 2nd century, they followed Buddhism.
- Between 399 and 414, the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Faxian visited the place and between 627 and 645, the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Huein- tsang travelled through this region on his pilgrimage to India.
Its political, demographic and economic status:
- The real power rests with the governor and not with the chief minister or elected assembly.
- Much of the population of Gilgit-Baltistan wants to be merged into Pakistan as a separate fifth province and opposes integration with Kashmir.
- It presently consists of fourteen districts, has a population of about 2 million and an area of approximately 73,000 square kilometres (28,000 square miles).
- Currently, Gilgit-Baltistan is neither a province nor a state, but has a semi-provincial status.
- India maintains that Gilgit-Baltistan is a part of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir that is “an integral part of the country [India]”.
- The Gilgit-Baltistan Police (GBP) is responsible for law enforcement in Gilgit-Baltistan.
- The mission of the force is the prevention and detection of crime, maintenance of law and order and enforcement of the Constitution of Pakistan.
- In the 2017 census, Gilgit District has the highest population of 330,000 and Hunza District the lowest of 50,000.
- The ethnic groups include Shins, Yashkuns, Kashmiris, Kashgaris, Pamiris, Pathans, and Kohistanis.
- A significant number of people from Gilgit-Baltistan are residing in other parts of Pakistan, mainly in Punjab and Karachi.
- The literacy rate of Gilgit-Baltistan is approximately 72%.
- Urdu being a national and official language serves as the lingua franca for inter ethnic communications.
- English is co-official and also used in education, while Arabic is used for religious purposes.
- The economy of the region is primarily based on a traditional route of trade, the historic Silk Road.
- The China Trade Organization forum led the people of the area to actively invest and learn modern trade know-how from its Chinese neighbor Xinjiang.
- The establishment of a chamber of commerce and the Sust dry port (in Gojal Hunza) are milestones in promoting trade.
- The rest of the economy is shouldered by mainly agriculture and tourism.
- Agricultural products are wheat, corn, barley and fruits.
- Tourism is trekking and mountaineering.
- How old is the conflict of Gilgit-Baltistan area between India and Pakistan? What will be the implications if its present status is changed?
Approach to the answer:
- Write why it is in news briefly
- Explain the history of the dispute
- Jot down the implications of the decision