Gilgit-Baltistan: Disputed or victim of Kashmir dispute?

Gilgit-Baltistan, the gateway of CPEC project, which provides geographical linkage to Pakistan with territories of China has been ignored totally and knocked down from benefits and share of CPEC project.

The total investment under CPEC project worth 46 Billion USD has been allocated for the constitutional provinces of Pakistan, having their strong political voice in the parliament, who pressurize the federation of Pakistan for their rights. The PMLN leadership in the central government is giving sympathetic consideration to the reservations of the provinces of Pakistan.

Political leadership of GB is crying for attention, and youth of GB are staging protests across the country against the willful injustice and disparities of the federal government with GB; but none is ready to listen to the voices of the suppressed and oppressed community. The media houses are also taking no pain towards the narrative-less people of GB. The ultimate failure to get due attention towards the disparities of the PMLN Government and the negligent attitude of the center towards GB will be a disastrous outburst for the country.

The longstanding limbo status of GB is the mother of all evil.

The question that arises here is whether GB is in fact disputed,  or otherwise a victim of the Kashmir dispute ?

GB, as a whole, neither remained constituent part nor was excluded from the suzerainty of the erstwhile State of Maharaja of Kashmir. In fact, the entities, i.e. princely states of Yasin, Ponial, Ishkoman, Hunza, Nagar and areas of Chilas never remained part of the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir. The verdict given during 1941 by Viceroy of the British Government of India turned down the claim of Maharaja Kashmir to declare the above entities to be the part state and made it clear that although the above entities remained under suzerainty of Kashmir but never formed part of State of Kashmir, Whereas, the remaining parts of GB i.e. Gilgit, Skardu and Astore remained under the suzerainty and formed part of the State of Maharaja Kashmir, till 1947.

Soon after the independence of Pakistan, the local people of GB, with the help of Gilgit Scouts, revolted against the  Dogra Raj, and liberated 72000 square kilometers of area, and formed an independent government on November 01, 1947 that lasted till November 16, 1947. Thereafter, the government of Pakistan took over the administrative control of GB on the basis of a telegram of Major Brown and other accession pleas of the local Mirs of the princely States of GB, but  kept the status of GB in sine die without giving legal effect to the accessions, which is still being practiced.

In 1948 India took the Kashmir issue to the United Nations. The Security Council, on hearing both the sides passed its resolutions on January 17/20 and August 13 1948. It worth mentioning here, the  representative of Pakistan vigorously strived to got included GB as disputed territory of erstwhile State of Kashmir, whereas the representative of Indian Government and Jawaharlal Nehru resisted to accept GB to be the part of the erstwhile State of Kashmir and part Under UNCIP resolutions. Despite resistance, Pakistan managed for GB to be included in UNCIP resolutions as a disputed territory in order to get benefits in case of plebiscite, but India has delayed the process of plebiscite. Since then 68 years have lapsed, people of GB despite having undisputed status are being grilled on the pretext of Kashmir dispute. Therefore, it is clear that GB isn’t a disputed region. It is a victim of the Kashmir dispute.

The other example of victimization is that under UNCIP resolution passed on August 13 1948 both the sides had agreed to maintain local authority till plebiscite under UNCIP; the concept of local authority has been interpreted in three different contexts by both the sides.

The constituent Assembly of India on 1948 interpreted the phrase “local authority” of UNCIP by introducing  special, transitional, temporary, provisions under 370 in the constitution of India, thereby provisionally incorporating Jammu and Kashmir into its constitution, and provided system of governance under constitution of Jammu Kashmir to the people Jammu besides giving them representation in Lok Saba and Rajia Saba (the mainstream legislative forums of India). Moreover, the Indian Government maintained State Subject Rule in the region, giving protection to the demographical changes and ownership to the people over their lands, Whereas the government of Pakistan provided separate political setup under the constitution of AJK by maintaining SSR without incorporating them into the constitution of the  of Pakistan.

In case of GB, the Government of Pakistan from the very inception took GB as a pasture; neither the rights to rule, nor right to ownership has been protected. Private lands have been declared as state land. The State Subject Rule (SSR) has been abolished since 1954. The system of governance was provided under SRO during 2009, issued from Ministry of Federal Government, which is without legal coverage. The powers to rule GB  is still vested with Federal Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan, in violation of the concept of local authority of the UNCIP resolutions.

The people of GB have been compelled to pay all types of taxes. The liabilities on the people are non compatible with rights. This particular situation has disabled the indigenous communities to use their natural resources for the betterment of the people of GB. Despite having a treasury of potential resources in the form of minerals, power generation capacity, forests, tourism, agriculture, flora and fauna, wild life, as well as having geographical linkages with major world economies, the government of GB is not capacitated or authorized to formulate policies for the betterment of its people and create windows of public private partnerships. Having high rate of literacy and potential in the youth of GB, the opportunities to engage them are kept limited which has increased frustration, and migration of the human capital GB has been producing.

GB is not a part of the National Finance Commission due to which there is no sustainable financial mechanism. Lack of financial sustainability guarantees the system is based on adhocism. Despite being rich in natural resources, the benefits are not being transferred to the people of GB. Resources have been exploited, mega projects have been initiated, conservation parks have been declared, leases have been given to external parties, but the government or the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are not taken into confidence. The federation has always taken refuge under the so-called disputed status when it comes to granting the political, financial, democratic and fundamental rights to the indigenous people and the region.

CPEC is a live example because at least 51 MoUs and agreements in different sectors, including energy, infrastructure, security, and economic development have been signed between China and Pakistan under the CPEC Project. Yhere will be nothing for the people of Gilgit Baltistan as well as no chance for establishment of economic and industrial zones in GB.

GB has rich potential for Hydro generation and CPEC hydro generation components could serve the dire need of the country if they were proposed or suggested to build in GB. There are solar, coals, thermal and wind power projects under CPEC agreement including two hydropower generation agreements but none is to be built in GB. All projects will benefit the rest of the country, despite of the fact that a major portion of the economic corridor runs through the areas of the so-called GB.

It is internationally accepted principle that without representation there should be no taxation. Disputed territories and populations thereof cannot be taxed unless competently imposed by their chosen representatives.

GB has been declared a disputed territory time and again by the federation of Pakistan with regards to provision of constitutional guarantees to the region of GB and rights and privileges to the people thereof.  While, ironically, imposing and collection of federal taxes, i.e. Customs Duty, GST, Central Excise Tax, Income Tax, and Withholding tax, the people of GB has always been termed to be undisputed.

The people of GB are being victimized on the pretext of Kashmir dispute for the last 68 years. The wealth of GB has been termed as a wealth of Pakistan, while the people are considered to be disputed.   The central government, by misusing constitutional authority, has concentrated CPEC investment to their constituencies and it is not willing to allocate single penny for GB under CPEC project, which is violation of UN declaration on the rights of indigenous people.

The Government of Pakistan is morally bound to abide UN declaration as signatory thereto. It is high time for incumbent govt in centre to redress the feud that has plaughed the heavenly area for decades. The longer the situation remains, the higher will be the costs.

The contributor, a lawyer by profession, is the President of Pakistan Peoples Party Gilgit-Baltsitan, and a former member of the GB Council. 

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One Comment

  1. 2. In my view the issue has not been solved because of lack of courage, political will and more dominantly because of desire – both by bureaucrats and politicians – to use this region as a convenient conduit for siphoning government resources towards building party funds and also personal fortunes.

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