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Gilgit-Baltistan Dispute - India and Pakistan

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August 03, 2021

Why in news?

Pakistan’s Law and Justice Ministry has finalised a draft legislation to incorporate Gilgit-Baltistan, the region known before 2009 as Northern Areas, as a province of the country.

Why is it a concern for India?

  • India has for long asserted that Gilgit-Baltistan is an integral part of India.
  • It is claimed by virtue of the legal, complete and irrevocable accession of Jammu & Kashmir to the Union of India in 1947.
  • The area’s strategic importance for India has particularly increased in light of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement.
  • Under the CPEC, China is investing hugely to develop the Gilgit-Baltistan area as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.
  • Suggestively, Pakistan’s decision is under pressure from China to make clear the Gilgit-Baltistan’s status so that it does not undermine the legality of its projects there.

How did the dispute originate?

  • Gilgit was part of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir, but was ruled directly by the British.
  • When Hari Singh (the Hindu ruler of the Muslim-majority J&Kstate) acceded to India in October, 1947, the Gilgit Scouts rose in rebellion, led by their British commander.
  • The Gilgit Scouts also moved to take over Baltistan, which was then part of Ladakh, and captured Skardu, Kargil and Dras.
  • In battles thereafter, Indian forces retook Kargil and Dras in August 1948.
  • Before that, in November, 1947, a political outfit called the Revolutionary Council of Gilgit-Baltistan had proclaimed the independent state of Gilgit-Baltistan.
  • It also declared it was acceding to Pakistan.
  • Pakistan accepted the accession only to the extent of full administrative control.
  • It chose to govern it directly under the Frontier Crimes Regulation, a law devised by the British to keep control of the restive tribal areas of the northwest.
  • Following the India-Pakistan ceasefire of January, 1949, Pakistan entered into an agreement with the “provisional government” of “Azad Jammu & Kashmir”to take over its defence and foreign affairs.
  • [The AJK covers the parts that had been occupied by Pakistani troops and irregulars.]
  • Under this agreement, the “AJK” government also ceded the administration of Gilgit-Baltistan to Pakistan.

What is unique with the Gilgit-Baltistan area?

  • In 1974, Pakistan adopted its first full-fledged civilian Constitution, which lists four provinces - Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakthunkhwa.
  • The Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit-Baltistan were not incorporated as provinces.
  • [This was because Pakistan wanted the resolution of the Kashmir issue to be in accordance with UN resolutions that called for a plebiscite.]
  • In 1975, PoK got its own Constitution, making it aself-governed autonomous territory and the people having rights and freedoms.
  • However, Northern Areas continued to be administered directly by Islamabad (the Frontier Crimes Regulation was discontinued in 1997 but repealed only in 2018).
  • The people of the minority Shia-dominated ‘Northern Areas’ did not have any political representation.
  • They were considered Pakistani, but remained outside the ambit of constitutional protections available to those in other provinces and PoK.

What were the later administrative arrangements?

  • In the 2000s, Pakistan began considering changes to its administrative arrangements in the Northern Areas.
  • The post-9/11 dynamics of the region and increasing Chinese strategic moves necessitated this.
  • In 2009, Pakistan brought in the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order, 2009.
  • It replaced the Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC) with the Legislative Assembly and the Northern Areas got back the name of Gilgit-Baltistan.

What are the recent developments?

  • A draft legislation for making Gilgit-Baltistan a province has been finalised as the 26th Constitutional Amendment Bill of Pakistan.
  • Given its status as part of the unresolved Kashmir issue, Gilgit-Baltistan is expected to be given provisional provincial status.
  • Aseparate set of amendments would be introduced to give Gilgit-Baltistan representation in Pakistan’s parliament, besides establishment of the Assembly.

 

Source: The Indian Express

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