Gilgit Baltistan’s Provincial Status Conundrum

The debate on the provincial status of Gilgit Baltistan is not a new phenomenon. Over time, the discourse has become a hot topic in the mainstream media of GB. During elections, many parties use the same narrative to get mass support. But after some time, the interest in the matter fades without any outcomes.

Despite of the upsa nd down, the question remains. How long will this question remain?

Before discussing whether it is possible to make Gilgit Baltistan the fifth province of Pakistan, we need to understand the current constitutional status and the minute history of Gilgit Baltistan.

At the present time, Gilgit Baltistan is a party to the Kashmir issue. GB was not a part of Kashmir before Dogras. It has remained an independent territory for centuries from Kashmir. The state of Jammu and Kashmir, of which GB was made a part, was created in 1846 after the signing of a treaty between the British and Gulab Singh of the Dogra dynasty. In 1947 Col Hassan Khan, with the support of the people of Gilgit Baltistan, stood and fought against Ghansara Singh, the governor of Kashmir, who liberated Gilgit from Dogra rule and later the Baltistan region after fighting a war of independence for a long year succeeded in liberating the region. Since Gilgit Baltistan was composed of many independent states, few decided to accede to Pakistan. However, the letters of accession were not entertained, creating a distance situation. On July 27, 1949, the Pakistan and Azad Kashmir government signed a notorious Karachi agreement with zero representation of Gilgit Baltistan. Sadly, the future of Gilgit Baltistan was decided without the popular will of the people of Gilgit Baltistan. In the agreement, Gilgit Baltistan was deliberately made a part of the Kashmir State, against whom the people of GB fought a war of independence. This is how the future of Gilgit Baltistan is now inclined to the solution to the Kashmir conflict. The rationale behind the agreement was to get support for the expected UN-prescribed plebiscite to get majority support. As the majority of Gilgit Baltistan was more likely to vote in favor of Islamabad in the plebiscite.

More than 70 years have passed, but the people of Gilgit Baltistan are neither treated as complete Pakistani nor Kashmiri. The stance of the state of Pakistan on Gilgit Baltistan is that the region is a part of Kashmir, so its future will be decided in the light of recommendations suggested by the UN. By maintaining such a strong position, talking about making GB a full-fledged province of Pakistan seems just a popular narrative.

Let’s come to the topic. To make Gilgit Baltistan the fifth province of Pakistan, Gilgit Baltistan first needs to be declared independent of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. What to do with the Karachi Agreement, then? Will Azad Kashmir happily withdraw from Karachi Agreement? Article 1 of Pakistan’s constitution describes the geography of Pakistan, in which Gilgit Baltistan is shown as a part of Kashmir. Article 257 articulates about Kashmir, in which Gilgit Baltistan is also considered a part of Kashmir. Can Pakistan amend articles 1 and 257 of the constitution? A two-thirds majority in the parliament would be required to make amendments, which seems unrealistic. If Pakistan decides to make Gilgit Baltistan a fifth province, wouldn’t it be against Pakistan’s official stance on the Kashmir issue? Can we expect a policy shift of the state on the Kashmir issue?

In 1948 foreign minister Zafarullah Khan maintained the same stance and declared Gilgit Baltistan as a part of Kashmir in the United Nations assembly. Pakistan has repeatedly said she is an advocate of the Kashmir cause. Pakistan will fight for Kashmir at every forum of the world. Suppose the advocate (Pakistan) then makes Gilgit Baltistan a part of Pakistan constitutionally. Then there arises a question, how could an advocate make himself the owner of his client’s property? Can we expect to win or lose the case, then?

Probably you must have heard about the abrogation of articles 370 and 35A by the Modi government. Do you know there was a law known as State Subject Rule (SSR) in GB which was identical to article 35A that the Modi government abrogated in 2018? The SSR was also abrogated by the state of Pakistan in the 1970s. At that time, nobody cared whether Gilgit Baltistan was part of Kashmir. Was the abrogation of State Subject Rule in Gilgit Baltistan the right decision?

The making of Gilgit Baltistan a fifth province of Pakistan is a tough decision. Although, It’s not impossible, as I mentioned the possibilities above. We must ponder whether the decision to make GB a province is the only solution to all the glitches of the people of Gilgit Baltistan. If yes, then why it took so much time, more than 70 years, to decide that? Why always such news circulates near the election time in Gilgit Baltistan? Why are there no representatives from Gilgit Baltistan to decide our future?

The people of Gilgit Baltistan will only decide the fate of Gilgit Baltistan. The people of GB simply demand if they are truly Pakistani, treat like Pakistani in all domains. If they are a part of Kashmir, treat them like Kashmiri and restore the State Subject Rule until a permanent solution to the Kashmir issue. Despite going for provincial status, the State of Pakistan should think for a mid-way solution like it is possible for the state to give GB a Kashmir-like setup with little autonomy. The Gilgit Baltistan Assembly which is a puppet and useless legislative body must have supremacy in the true sense. Gilgit Baltistan should not be bound to the decisions made by the Prime Minister of Pakistan because the people of Gilgit Baltistan have no right to vote for the election that elects the prime minister of Pakistan. All decisions about Gilgit Baltistan must be made according to the determinations of the people of Gilgit Baltistan.

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