The precarious status of Gilgit-Baltistan

Afzal Shigri 

IN view of objections raised by all the provinces save one on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’s implementation, the federal government has launched a media campaign to highlight and defend the implementation strategy for this mega venture. In order to allay fears, a series of seminars have also been held in various locations. Gilgit-Baltistan, as CPEC’s only point of entry from China, has a special status and thus it was important to have a consultative seminar in GB to ascertain the people’s demands, provide answers as well as identify opportunities for bringing prosperity and development to this important region.

Rather than determine the real issues, the federal and local governments instead chose to announce a long list of CPEC-related projects. This did little to satisfy local demands as, according to official documents, most are already part of the regular annual development plan. This further eroded the government’s credibility and perpetuated misgivings about its intentions.

For local residents there are two major issues of concern: the constitutional status of GB and the need for a fair share in CPEC’s projects. Due to apprehensions born of historical neglect and broken promises, the aim of focusing on these two factors is to ensure the government precludes any negative consequences as a result of CPEC.

The failure to grant constitutional status to Gilgit-Baltistan may complicate CPEC’s legality.

The constitutional status of this region remains vague and fluid as it has been linked to the Kashmir dispute since it was geographically subsumed within Kashmir at the time of Independence. Although GB’s people had acceded to Pakistan after ousting the Dogra regular army, its status has since remained in limbo due to the infamous Karachi Agreement signed by the Kashmiri leadership, which did not represent GB, with the Pakistan government. Despite GB’s unanimous support for accession and integration with Pakistan, the federal government has moved at a snail’s pace towards granting the region self-rule (as envisaged in the UN resolution) through presidential decrees, while ignoring the accession question.

One major development was the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order, 2009, which established a local elected legislative assembly. The demand for integration with Pakistan and conferral of full constitutional rights, however, continued to be ignored by the federal government on the pretext that the region is a disputed territory and modifying its status is subject to a plebiscite under the UN. GB’s legislative assembly, in its latest resolution dated Aug 17, 2015, addressed this matter by demanding provisional provincial status pending settlement of the Kashmir dispute. Granting full provisional constitutional status will eliminate the legal vacuum and reinforce the legitimacy of its linkage with Pakistan.

This is important because India lays claims to the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir under its constitution. Astonishingly, even in the face of this impending threat, Pakistan has failed to even define the status of GB. This ambiguity needs to be addressed urgently to avoid legal implications if the CPEC development is challenged before any adjudication forum.

This matter cannot be delayed any further and, even if the babus recommend maintaining the status quo, the federal government should take a bold decision based on the local assembly resolution demanding provisional provincial status. This will not only meet the long-standing demands of the region’s people, it will also provide legal anchorage to GB, which is repeatedly being challenged by India and now, more vociferously, due to the CPEC agreement with China.

On the issue of the constitutional status of GB, the federal government set up a committee headed by the prime minister’s adviser on foreign affairs. Such committees are notoriously promulgated to maintain the status quo and, as reaffirmed by local media reports, are likely to only recommend some cosmetic changes to the 2009 governance order. According to the local press, in the latest development, as apprehended in the final meeting of this committee on Oct 24, 2016, it has again opted for the status quo, with minor cosmetic changes — without taking into consideration the risks it poses to the legal integrity of building a road network in GB for CPEC in the absence of a clearly defined status of the region in line with the wishes of the people.

As for GB’s share in CPEC-related projects, there is actually only one special economic zone at Muqpoon Das, Gilgit district on 250 acres of disputed land on the main Karakoram Highway — not three as erroneously claimed by the chief minister of GB. Similarly, his statement about the allocation of Rs86 billion for another route through Neelum Valley over Shandur Pass is not backed up by references to it in any official documents. Despite established hydropower resources of 40,000MW, there is not a single hydropower project for GB under CPEC, and there is no project for upgrading the dry port at Sost. There are only road projects related to upgrading the Karakoram Highway.

The people of GB expected some concrete project proposals that would encompass the entire region, but the promises and statements of government representatives — without reference to any specific and documented projects — means that, yet again, GB will be expected to accept a ribbon development and its resulting roadside services to facilitate transportation to Gwadar.

While the promises of the civilian authority have been a disappointment, a statement by the COAS during his visit to Gilgit on the subject offered a ray of hope, when he indicated that construction of a Gilgit-Skardu road was in the offing, that plans for the development of adjoining areas with China were a part of CPEC and that the Xinjiang provincial government had been tasked to work on this. Since the people of the region have a strong bond with and trust in the army, the words of the COAS were a source of assurance to the people of GB for they believe that the promises of the army chief will translate into action.

The writer, a former IGP Sindh, belongs to Gilgit-Baltistan.

Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2016

Related Articles


  1. I am sharing my discussion points with my committee members as part of awareness:
    1. I have a deep desire to make an attempt to realize one of the basic tenants of HRC viz. “Democratic rights and freedoms”, which I am sure forms National Plan of Action of HRCP/GB. This is an opportunity for the committee to attempt in realizing this exalted aim.
    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.
    3. I want our paper to attempt answers. Yes we have many books by various authors – including those by our committee members – Treaty of Lahore on March 9, 1946 between Sikh Rulers and the Government of British India, Treaty of Amritsar sale deed of Jammu and Kashmir to Maharaja of Kashmir by British, Lease deed of Gilgit Wizarat-1935, Establishment of Provisional Government, United Nations Resolution. On 1 January 1948, UNCIP, Karachi Agreement March 1949, Sino-Pak Border Agreement 1963, Courts Verdicts Azad Jammu and Kashmir High Court Ruling, Azad Jammu and Kashmir Supreme Court’s Ruling, Supreme Court of Pakistan Ruling, etc yet none of these seem to be relevant in changing the ground situation. Realities on ground after the events in 1947 did follow superficial changes as a result of Northern Area Council decision in1970, Legal Framework Order (LFO) 1994, Legal Frame Work Order 2007, Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment And Self Governance Order, 2009, while the instrument of accession of 26 October 1947 of Jammu and Kashmir; Tashkent Declaration of 10 January 1966 , Cease Fire of December 17, 1971, control (LOC) of 1972 between Pakistan and India, Simla Agreement July 2, 1972 and Siachin conflict changed the physical boundaries. On 13 April 1984, Indian troops snatched control of the Siachen glacier in northern Kashmir, narrowly beating Pakistan. Thirty years later, the two sides remain locked in a stand-off, but the Indian army mountaineer who inspired the operation says his country must hang on whatever the cost. “With all the money we have spent in Siachen, we could have provided clean water and electricity to half the country,” says the former Indian army officer.
    4. despite several ceasefire agreements, India and Pakistan have never officially demarcated the “line of control” in the extreme north of Kashmir, including the Siachen.
    5. The precursors of events and subsequent status for GB are result of following behind the scene events not covered by visible documents but which have a solid presence: These are:
    A. Parleys by Maharajah of Kashmir in July 1947 with delegations from the regions, prominently Hunza Nager and Punial.
    B. Parleys with Liaqat Ali Khan, PM Pakistan with the same delegations in 1950 in Karachi.
    C. Please refer to page-74 of “Gilgit Ka Inqilah, 1947” by prof Usman and clarify on what questions did colonel Bacon ask during the two interviews of then Jamadar Safiullah Beg? and what was shared during this interview? Also:
    D. Please go through the accession document and try to find facts: In July Kashmir ruler invites the delegations, in Gilgit first meeting of the VCOs takes place (find where), a document is signed under oath (find out who wrote that document), then see the information addressees on the accession letter written to Quaid, Try to reason in the light of background (1946 Golden Jubilee visit to Bombay- interview on return to Gilgit by the Political Agent – Col Bacon) you will know how it happened. You may read four of my blog posts viz. WHO IS WHO IN GILGIT, and STATUS OF GB Part-I and PART-2 as well as the keynote speech in Chinar Bagh on 01 November 2012.
    E. “A wireless message was sent to the government of Pakistan to send a civil administrator and take over the administrative control.” This claim is simply a twist of history in the light of national pride. The fact was Subedar Shah Raes [then dismissed from Gilgit Scouts for demeanor] was aspiring to become Ra of Gilgit replacing his nephew Jaffar Khan with expected support of Mir Mohammad Jamal Khan and SM Baber – his brothers in law, while Mirza Hasan aspired to become Commander-in-Chief of United States of Gilgit – with no vision for Baltistan and declared statement of disposing all Ras by hanging them from Gilgit suspension bridge. Gauge reality and standing of this provisional government and its vision from the response this group received from Mir of Hunza when they went to his residence for eliciting his support.
    F. Yadgar-e-Shuhada Chinar bagh: Trace the source who initiated the idea and subsequently arranged the funds in 1960 for construction on the occasion of the first visit of H.H Aga Khan to the region. Think why?
    6. I have shared a document on the official stand of GOP on the international forum. You will notice that it is identical to what our document communicates. The need is to stress on this phrase in the official document: “From this perspective, integration of the Northern Areas with Pakistan is also not prohibited.”
    7. “Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or to lose.”- Lyndon B. Johnson. The wonderful paper you have shared must form an Annexure to satisfy the requirements in the notification but work on a smaller document as the tool towards:
    b. an efficient and modern administrative system to ensure improvement in quality of life of citizens as well.

  2. Really we appreciate the efforts of our senior think tanks who are always there to think about GB and its welfare. All of our think tanks and leadership need to be on same page about constitutional right of GB regardless of any affiliation (politically, religiously, and regionally).

    Honest speaking is that to what extent our Self Governance succeeded to deliver and ensuring good governance and development in GB. The below comment shows the reality. If there will be dozens of ministers or prime ministers and they will make their own salaries double and triple at the cost of public fund what is the usage of such governance or independence. If in Thur Sind children are dying due to shortage and not proper distribution of food what is the usage of these people for having senate and National assembly or sitting their leaders in assemblies. Constitutional right is essential but at the same time good governance and proper utilization of available resources is also equally important.
    On many occasions I have shared about these notions where all need to play their part to make GB a corruption free zone.

    Pamir Times
    April 10, 2015
    Legalizing Corruption in GBLA through various bills:
    Ali Mehr

    Well elaboration Awais ! Thanks for sensitization and rationalization and highlighting the main issue. After analyzing the current situation of Governance in GB towards some political leadership and reflecting their actions as legalizing the corruption through bills seems and further enhances our disparity and despondency. If this is our standard of governing and service delivery through self-governance package what we further can expect that how far we would honour the principles of good governance. We (our political leadership) would be free handed to mould the law and universal core values according to their own will and interest.

    We know that God will never send angels to stop them and forbade them to refrain from unlawful deeds that are violation of human rights, sabotaging merit and flourishing personal interest as well. All these evils would lead the whole Gb nation towards declination and backwardness.

    We had selected our leaders in order to provide us relief but nobody knows that some of figure heads would hostage the GB assembly. The other leaders who are silent on such dealings can be assumed that they are also equally involved in breaking law and creating disintegration in the region.

    If a professional starts to put efforts to streamline the systems but some political figures we should not say leaders mounting the pressure and destroy the systems.

    We expect with all well wishers and social activist of Gb regardless of party affiliations like, Afzel shigri, Inayetullah shumali,Nawaz khan Naji, Hafiz hafizur rehman,Ghulam Muhammad, Wazir baig , Brig retd, Hassam ullah baig, Sikender from baltistan, Dr, najam , Col. Retd karim, Justice retired syed jaffer shah, Justice Raja jalal, Mir Ghazenfer ali khan and haji jan baz khan, Malik maskeen, Nazir sabir, Dr. Muzaffer rallay, Zafer Iqbal, peer kerum ali shah, sultan madad ,Fida muhammad Nashad and Dr. Iqbal to play their role to discourage corruption in GB and get constitutional right from central Govt. I apologize with those prominent social activist and leaders of GB who have missed out from my memory.

    Many people would have differences on the name of these personalities but so far I have heard them about speaking in favour of GB rather than personal interest or region.

Back to top button