Gilgit Baltistan Set To Be Pakistan’s Fifth Province

PM Imran Khan in Gilgit Baltistan

Prime Minister Imran Khan announced provisional provincial status for Gilgit Baltistan on the region’s 73rd Independence Day. The Prime Minister emphasized that one of the major reasons of the sense of deprivation in Gilgit was because it was cut off from the rest of the country, and hence this decision will act as a breakthrough for the region.

The Prime Minister of Pakistan, in his speech, said that it was time for Gilgit Baltistan to move on now, and that the Government has kept in mind the resolutions of United Nation’s Security Council. He further added that the Government has planned to uplift Gilgit Baltistan through a series of development projects and new initiatives.

Gilgit Baltistan is strategically significant for not only Pakistan and India but also for China. Gilgit share borders with China and is a neighborhood to Ladakh, which is a disputed territory between India and China. Apart from this, Gilgit also has its border connected with Afghanistan.

Furthermore, Gilgit Baltistan is also an integral part of the $64bn Pakistan-China Economic Corridor (CPEC). CPEC connects China with the Arabian Sea and provides a trade route infrastructure within Pakistan, accounting for its importance. Stakeholders believe that Gilgit will become a trade and business hub in the region post CPEC.

Over the years, Gilgit Baltistan has struggled with its integration to Pakistan. Governments in the past tried to integrate Gilgit with the State, however, there were many complications in the process. The recent developments are welcomed by the locals, as they sense a feeling of ownership from the country.

The proposed decision will bring Gilgit in line with Pakistan’s other provinces. However, Pakistan still requires a constitutional amendment to further proceed with its decision. The Prime Minister’s announcement came just ahead of the Legislative Assembly Elections of Gilgit Baltistan, scheduled on 15th November.

Previously, Gilgit was primarily controlled by Islamabad as the governing body in the region had little impact over decision making and other important aspects. This was one of the main concerns of local population and political activists of Gilgit Baltistan. However, with the recent proposal of the Prime Minister, it is sensed that the region will gain political stability and its infrastructure will develop to benefit the local population.

Pakistan’s decision is a reflection of the wishes of local population who have been striving for administrative, and economic reforms since decades. The region will now have local representatives and more constitutional rights than earlier. The upcoming elections in the region are also considered to be a welcoming political activity. Recent rallies and political gatherings have reflected the developing interest of the local population is the upcoming systematic and governing changes.

The decision received wide outcry and series of protests from the Indian media and Government. Indian Foreign Ministry condemned Pakistan’s step and termed it illegal in the perspective of the Peace Resolutions of United Nations. Pakistan rejected Indian claims and stated that it is their constitutional rights to look out for its territories.

Pakistan and India have been involved in territorial disputes since their independence. They have been involved in three wars over Kashmir since 1947. Pakistan and India both claim their control over Kashmir but in reality, govern different regions of Kashmir. The Indian decision to revoke the special status of Kashmir by abolishing Article 370 of the constitution receive immense backlash from Pakistan at international level. The political and social infrastructure in Indian occupied Kashmir is complicated since this decision. Therefore, this recent step of Pakistan has outraged India as it carries political and  symbolic significance in the region.

The provisional provincial status of Gilgit Baltistan is an initiative to serve the reservations of the local population. However, it will further complicate mutual ties between Pakistan and India. It could also potentially ignite turbulence on the Line of Control (LOC) between the two countries. It is yet to be seen how this decision unfolds for the region because it is their right to have peace and prosperity after decades of instability and uncertainty.