By Arun Joshi
Pakistan is all set to declare and annex strategically important Gilgit-Baltistan region as its province and this time it is moving in a different manner than before. It is aimed at cutting the Indian claim and reducing its bargaining power as and when the two countries sit together to resolve the Kashmir issue .The international voices , particular, from the US , have become louder in the recent weeks urging Delhi and Islamabad to settle this issue.
This time, the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly that was elected in October-November last year amid the allegations of high rigging in the polls , passed a resolution on March 9 ,asking the federal government to adopt GB as its interim province. And Pakistan government has started making arrangements for doing so.
It is a cleverly crafted move that will achieve many ends for Pakistan all at once . It will help Pakistan to oblige its all-weather friend China by changing the status of the Pakistan occupied territories of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir., including Gilgit-. The G B was part of the Dogra-ruled Jammu and Kashmir . And the last Dogra king Maharaja Hari Singh had signed the instrument of accession in October 1947, acceding the whole of the state to India.
Technically, legally and as per the international law , the whole of the state of Jammu and Kashmir is part of India. However , the maters got challenged when Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru moved the United Nations Security Council in 1948 maintaining that Pakistan had sponsored tribal attack on Indian territory and hence it should be declared an aggressor . Nehru was wrong. He failed to read the international scenario of the time , when the US and the UK after having emerged from the World War II had developed common stakes and they had no love lost for left leaning India .
This raised questions over the settled issue as the UNSC passed resolutions envisaging plebiscite in the region giving people to choose between India and Pakistan as their future nation. Since Pakistan did not fulfill the UN resolutions – to vacate the territory under its occupation of its army and its nationals , the plebiscite could not be held.
Pakistan is exploiting the situation because of two factors – it is adopting a deceptive policy ; it is proposing to announce Gilgit-Baltistan as its “ interim province.” This tentativeness that the term “ interim” suggests , has its own purpose; Pakistan government and establishment – the army- can tell the domestic constituency that they have not compromised with its stand on the UN resolutions, as the matter would be settled as per the resolutions of the global body ultimately. It is sustaining a deception , the people know it, bt they are being led to garden path.
At the same time it is in all practical ways annexing the territory that legally belongs to India . It is leaving the room open for both keeping its domestic constituency in good humour and snatching away the Indian territory under its occupation as part of its own map, politically, geographically and administratively.
The resolution was moved in the legislative assembly by the GB Chief Minister Khalid Khurshid Khan and supported by all other political groups . It pressed for its acceptance of the demand by Pakistani parliament as only after the Pakistani Parliament endorses this resolution , an executive decision can be taken by Islamabad.
This presents a very ticklish situation for India . Though it rejects outright the UN resolutions on Kashmir , yet its claim on the territories of Jammu and Kashmir held by Pakistan will get diluted when G B will be made as a province of Pakistan . The Islamabad’s argument is that it is bowing to the wishes of the people of GB and hence it is taking action on the resolution. But very little is known that the elections to the Assembly were manipulated by Pakistan army and it is a body that speaks at the behest of the army . And Pakistan army is too keen to oblige China that uses this Himalayan territory as its vital communication channel to Gwadar in Balochistan as part of its multi-billion-dollar China- Pakistan Economic Corridor . The CPEC also passes through the Pakistan occupied Kashmir . The PLA troops are already there, because China has invested heavily in other infrastructural projects , especially the hydro-electric projects .
Besides posing serious threat to the strategic assets of India for CPEC passes through the areas of the erstwhile state alongside the Line of Control that divides Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh between India and Pakistan .
India also has its strategic concerns about the Siachen glacier , the highest battleground in the world, which Pakistan is eyeing since long , and now with China firmly on its side , it can pose greater danger than ever before..
India would be left with little maneuvering at the negotiating table with Pakistan on Kashmir , if at all the push comes to that – the US is already pushing Delhi and Islamabad to hold direct talks to resolve the issue.
Pakistan might also be taking advantage of the fact that the US has stated Jammu and Kashmir as a Union Territory and not as a state that it was along with Ladakh region- now a separate UT – Gilgit Baltistan borders Ladakh . So it is according to itself the right to make changes in the territories hoping that the US and other powers will not say anything adverse on it . The US has a compulsion too, it needs Pakistan’s help in getting out of Afghanistan .
That has changed the shape of this geostrategic region , and Pakistan is taking full advantage of it.
About the Author:
Arun Joshi is a senior journalist based in J&K. He has worked with Hindustan Times, Times of India, Indian Express and The Tribune.
He has authored “ Eyewitness Kashmir: Teetering on Nuclear War” and three other books.