It is the first step towards the “new Great Game”. That is how experts are looking at the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) in China’s ambitious project ‘One Belt, One Road vision of land and sea connections between Asia, Europe and beyond. The economic, political and geo-strategic fallouts of this project have generated multiple discourses across the globe including in Pakistan – it expects a windfall of economic benefits from the project. For the road passing through the Gilgit-Baltistan, the Kashmir Dispute has also become by proxy part of the ‘CPEC discourses.
On Friday, in Beijing Chinese Foreign Ministry said ‘the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) did not affect China’s position on the Kashmir issue.’ The spokesperson Hua Chun¬ying said this in response to a question at her regular press conference regarding India’s objection to Pakistan’s plan to declare Gilgit-Baltistan, part of Kashmir, its fifth province and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor going through these areas. Calling the Kashmir problem as a leftover issue from history between India and Pakistan, she said “it needs to be properly settled through dialogue and consultation between the two sides.”
On Thursday, Indian External Affairs Ministry describing Gilgit-Baltistan ‘under illegal occupation of Pakistan’ said, “It has been, is and will always be an integral part of India. The entire state of Jammu and Kashmir acceded to India in 1947 and any unilateral step by Pakistan to alter the status of that part will have no basis in law and will be completely unacceptable.”
On Friday the joint resistance leadership took exception to the ‘proposed move of the Government of Pakistan (GoP) to declare Gilgit-Baltistan as the fifth province of the Federation. It saw the move in total violation of Pakistan’s stated position on Kashmir Dispute and detrimental to the “disputed nature of Kashmir”. In 2016, the AJK Assembly had also unanimously passed two resolutions against the proposed provincial status for Gilgit-Baltistan region. That indicates, the impact of the proposed move to the disputed status of Jammu and Kashmir has become the cause of worry on both sides of the dividing line.
Should the proposed move of declaring the erstwhile Northern Areas as the fifth province of Pakistan be a cause of deep of worry to people on both sides of the LoC. Is it going to trespass the United Nations resolution on the Jammu and Kashmir and impact the disputed status of Jammu and Kashmir. Is our worry about it genuine? Or it is just born out of our political psyche- ‘once bitten twice shy’. Before, trying to analyze the question in the light of the multiple statements that have come to the fore during past few days. Looking at the history of Gilgit-Baltistan is important for understanding the issue.
“Everything that happened in Jammu and Kashmir between 1846-1947 was in some way a product of the British strategic interests in the region,” They wanted control over the Gilgit Agency for mentoring the affairs of Central Asia and defensive outpost against any hostile incursion from that direction. The British ultimately succeeded on 26 March 1935 in getting a lease of the Gilgit Wazarat north of Indus and its dependence for sixty years. The Gilgit area was reverted to the Dogra ruler on August 1, 1947, after the lapse of British Paramountcy. People rose in revolt against the decision and the Gilgit scout put the governor under protective and formed a provincial government and acceded to Pakistan. ‘Lord Mountbatten, in 1947 tried his best to create circumstances to see the Northern Areas in the lap of New Delhi but it did not happen. On 16 November 1947, Karachi (the then capital of Pakistan) sent a political agent at the provincial government’ invitation. ‘From then on Pakistan directly administered the Northern Areas.’ Moreover, people of the area have been demanding to declare the Areas i.e. Gilgit-Baltistan as the fifth province. Christopher Snedden analyzing the relation between Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK in the context of the situation as obtained in 1947 in Muzaffarabad, writes, “Generally Azad Kashmir Government accepted that the Northern Areas were outside its jurisdiction.” In 1993, a writ was filed in Azad Kashmir High Court for getting Northern Areas within the control of AjK government. The High Court directed AJK Government to take control of the Areas. Nevertheless, the order was set aside in 1994 by the AJK Supreme Court. On 9 September 2009, Government of Pakistan issued an order for self-governance of Gilgit-Baltistan. It was welcomed by the people and seen as a move towards getting the status of the fifth province of Pakistan.
Of late it is not demand of the people that has made GoP to contemplate or initiate moves for granting fifth province status to Gilgit-Baltistan but reportedly China’s insistence is behind it. The Chinese Foreign Ministry statement saying, ‘it has not changed its stand on Kashmir and calling for Indo-Pakistan dialogue of settling the issue’ did not put at rest speculations about fifth province status.
The proposed move on Thursday and Friday as is evident from quoted statement invited a caveat from the GoI and an injunction from the ‘resistance leadership’. The GoI has called move as a violation of the Shimla Agreement and Lahore Declaration. Both these document in reality recognize Kashmir as dispute/problem “awaiting final settlement”. Some jurists on the basis of Indian Constitution Article 1, and entry of 15 of the first schedule have been contesting New Delhi’s view that Gilgit-Baltistan is “integral” part of India. That reads:
The territory which immediately before the commencement of this Constitution, ( 26 January 1950) was comprised in the Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir.
Their view is that ‘On that date neither AJK nor Gilgit-Baltistan was part of Indian State of Jammu and Kashmir.’
The injunction from the resistance leadership is in line with the stated policy of Pakistan on Kashmir. Notwithstanding, the people the Northern Areas asking for joining Pakistan as a fifth province, Karachi in keeping with the spirit of UN resolutions had not agreed to it. It can be said with all certainty declaring Gilgit-Baltistan as the fifth province is expected to invade Pakistan’s stated position about the UN resolutions. Thus adversely affect the Kashmir cause.