LAHORE: The government is mulling no plan to change the status of Gilgit-Baltisitan and make it another province of Pakistan. There is no truth in the media reports about converting Gilgit-Baltistan into the fifth province of Pakistan, Ashtar Ausaf Ali, top legal aide of the prime minister, told this scribe yesterday. He said changing status of Gilgat-Baltistan was not possible without holding census in the country and a constitutional amendment for which consensus of all stakeholders was an imperative need.
Gilgit Agency and Baltistan which were historically parts of Kashmir from 1970 remained under the administrative control of Pakistan. The region was given autonomous status in August 2009 during the last PPP government, with its own legislative assembly and a council at the head of a chief minister appointed through election. All national political parties have their splinters that take part in the election process.
Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) which borders Azad Kashmir to the south, KP to the west, the Wakhan corridor of Afghnistan to the north and Xinjiang province of China has a high geopolitical value for Pakistan which has been bolstered by the CPEC route designed to run from Kashgar, China to Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea of Pakistan.
Media reports said the other day that Pakistan was absorbing the G-B in the federation to meet the Chinese demand that had emanated from its concerns from passing the $46 billion CPEC route through the disputed territory.
Kashmiri leaders are also opposed to making Gilgit-Baltisatn as the fifth province of Pakistan. They said it was part of Jammu and Kashmir and that Pakistan’s traditional stand for Kashmiris’ right to self-determination through the United Nations would be greatly hit by the step under consideration. The AJK Assembly also endorsed a resolution against this plan and the same would come up for debate on January 12. The people of G-B generally support their absorption in the Centre, viewing it would bring economic progress and better administration after their voice was directly heard by the parliament of Pakistan.
The concerns of Kashmiris grew after a spokesman for the G-B government hinted that the PM had formed a five-member committee on the matter.
In the presence of the UN resolutions which endorse demand for right to self-determination of Kashmiris, the status of Gilgit-Baltistan cannot be changed, Ashtar Ausaf Ali said. He highlighted the need of census before going for any such measure which would determine demographic strength in every district (nine) of that part to know what the administrative needs are for making it a province. A province needs civil service structure, bureaucracy and the courts besides others, Ashtar Ausaf said.
Answering a question, he said it was totally misperception that the CPEC route would be through the disputed territory. Moreover, CPEC has no relevance to this territory, he said. The area through which CPEC would run has already been acceded to Pakistan, he asserted.
He said there would be no compromise on Pakistan’s stance over right to self-determination for the people of Kashmir in the light of the UN resolutions.
Published in The Nation newspaper on 12-Jan-2016