• On November 1, observed every year in Gilgit-Baltistan as “Independence Day”, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that his government would give the region “provisional provincial status”.
  • When that happens, G-B will become the fifth province of Pakistan, although the region is claimed by India as part of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu & Kashmir as it existed in 1947 at its accession to India.
  • Gilgit-Baltistan is the northernmost territory administered by Pakistan, providing the country’s only territorial frontier, and thus a land route, with China, where it meets the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
  • The China Pakistan Economic Corridor has made the region vital for both countries.
  • To G-B’s west is Afghanistan, to its south is Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and to the east J&K.

What is the regions current status?

  • Though Pakistan, like India, links G-B’s fate to that of Kashmir, its administrative arrangements are different from those in PoK.
  • While PoK has its own Constitution that sets out its powers and their limits vis-à-vis Pakistan, G-B has been ruled mostly by executive fiat. Until 2009, the region was simply called Northern Areas.
  • It got its present name only with the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order, 2009, which replaced the Northern Areas Legislative Council with the Legislative Assembly.
  • The NALC was an elected body, but had no more than an advisory role to the Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas, who ruled from Islamabad.
  • The Legislative Assembly is only a slight improvement.
  • It has 24 directly elected members and nine nominated ones.
  • In 2018, the then PML(N) government passed an order centralising even the limited powers granted to the Assembly, a move linked to the need for greater control over land and other resources for the infrastructure projects then being planned under CPEC.
  • The order was challenged, and in 2019, the Pakistan Supreme Court repealed it and asked the Imran Khan government to replace it with governance reforms.
  • This was not done.

Why the separate status?

  • Pakistan’s separate arrangement with G-B go back to the circumstances under which it came to administer it.
  • On November 1 1947, after J&K ruler Hari Singh had signed the Instrument of Accession with India, and the Indian Army had landed in the Valley to drive out tribal invaders from Pakistan, there was a rebellion against Hari Singh in Gilgit.
  • Gilgit had been leased to the British by Hari Singh in 1935. The British returned it in August 1947.
  • Hari Singh sent his representative, Brigadier Ghansar Singh, as Governor, and Brown to take charge of the Gilgit Scouts.
  • But after taking protective custody of the Governor on November 1, Brown would raise the Pakistani flag at his headquarters.
  • Later the Gilgit Scouts managed to bring Baltistan under their control.Pakistan did not accept G-B’s accession although it took administrative control of the territory.
  • After India went to the UN and a series of resolutions were passed in the Security Council on the situation in Kashmir, Pakistan believed that neither G-B nor PoK should be annexed to Pakistan, as this could undermine the international case for a plebiscite in Kashmir.
  • It also reckons that in the event a plebiscite ever takes place in Kashmir, votes in G-B will be important too.
  • This is why it is only being called “provisional” provincial status.

What do the people in G-B want?

  • The people of G-B have been demanding for years that it be made a part of Pakistan, they do not have the same constitutional rights Pakistanis have.
  • There is virtually no connect with India. Some have in the past demanded a merger with PoK, but the people of G-B have no real connect with Kashmir either.
  • They belong to several non-Kashmiri ethnicities, and speak various languages, none of these Kashmiri.
  • A majority of the estimated 1.5 million G-B residents are Shias.
  • There is anger against Pakistan for unleashing extremist sectarian militant groups that target Shias, and for dictating over the use of their natural resources, but the predominant sentiment is that all this will improve once they are part of the Pakistani federation.
  • There is a small movement for independence, but it has very little traction.