Pakistan’s Law and Justice Ministry has finalised a draft legislation to incorporate Gilgit-Baltistan, the region known before 2009 as Northern Areas, as a province of the country.
Cause of concern for India
India has for long asserted that Gilgit-Baltistan is an integral part of India. It is claimed by virtue of the legal, complete and irrevocable accession of Jammu & Kashmir to the Union of India in 1947.
The area’s strategic importance for India has particularly increased in light of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) agreement.
Under the CPEC, China is investing hugely to develop the Gilgit-Baltistan area as part of its Belt and Road Initiative.
Suggestively, Pakistan’s decision is under pressure from China to make clear the Gilgit-Baltistan’s status so that it does not undermine the legality of its projects there.
- Gilgit was part of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir, but was ruled directly by the British. When Hari Singh (the Hindu ruler of the Muslim-majority J&K state) acceded to India in October, 1947, the Gilgit Scouts rose in rebellion, led by their British commander.
- The Gilgit Scouts also moved to take over Baltistan, which was then part of Ladakh, and captured Skardu, Kargil and Dras.
- In battles thereafter, Indian forces retook Kargil and Dras in August 1948.
- Before that, in November, 1947, a political outfit called the Revolutionary Council of Gilgit-Baltistan had proclaimed the independent state of Gilgit-Baltistan. It also declared it was acceding to Pakistan.
- Pakistan accepted the accession only to the extent of full administrative control. It chose to govern it directly under the Frontier Crimes Regulation, a law devised by the British to keep control of the restive tribal areas of the northwest.
- Following the India-Pakistan ceasefire of January, 1949, Pakistan entered into an agreement with the “provisional government” of “Azad Jammu & Kashmir” to take over its defence and foreign affairs. [The AJK covers the parts that had been occupied by Pakistani troops and irregulars.]
Under this agreement, the “AJK” government also ceded the administration of Gilgit-Baltistan to Pakistan.