10 January 2016

Gilgit-Baltistan issue may worsen India-Pakistan ties


Amid tension in India-Pakistan ties following the Pathankot terror attack, another factor could add to the unease in ties – a reported move by Islamabad to upgrade the constitutional status of the Gilgit-Baltistan region, which India claims as part of the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir and an integral part of India.

The reported proposal to include Gilgit-Baltistan, a mountainous area of Jammu and Kashmir occupied by Pakistan, for the first time in Pakistan’s Constitution would bring the area a step closer to being fully absorbed as an additional province.
The move reportedly comes on the insistence of China which has voiced concern over constructing the mega $46-billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that would pass through the disputed Gilgit-Baltistan region. The CPEC, to which India has voiced its strong objection, plans to link China’s Kashgar city in Xinjiang province to the Pakistani port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in June last year had termed the CPEC project “unacceptable” for passing through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.
In the Gilgit Baltistan segment, the CPEC project design is set to include a major expansion of the Karakoram Highway, establishing industrial parks in special economic zones, constructing hydropower projects, railway line and road building. The project also entails building hydropower projects and motorways and highways in what Pakistan calls Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK). Besides being named in the Constitution, Gilgit-Baltistan is set to send two lawmakers to sit in the Pakistan Parliament — though they would be given observer status, according to reports.

In June last year, India had slammed the proposed election in Gilgit-Baltistan, terming it as an attempt by Islamabad "to camouflage its forcible and illegal occupation of the regions" and to deny its people their political rights.

Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup had in a statement, said: "India's position is well known. The entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, which includes the regions of Gilgit and Baltistan, is an integral part of India."

India had termed the June 8 election in Gilgit and Baltistan "under the so-called 'Gilgit Baltistan Empowerment and Self Government Order' as an attempt by Pakistan to camouflage its forcible and illegal occupation of the regions”.

Absorbing the area into the Pakistan constitution could have far-reaching consequences, including increased friction with India.

The PoK is divided into what is called as 'Azad Kashmir' and Gilgit-Baltistan. Both the regions have their own legislative assemblies and, technically, are not part of the Pakistan federation.

Pakistan administers them through a special minister for Kashmir and joint councils.

Pakistan maintains that Kashmir is a disputed region and that its status should be decided by a plebiscite under the UN resolution of 1948-49.

The terror attack on the Pathankot air base in Punjab, north India, has added to the strain in ties and put a question mark on resumption of dialogue between India and Pakistan. The audacious terror attack was carried out by suspected Pakistani terrorists, which left seven Indian security personnel dead after a 56-hour gunfight.

In July last year, the Prime Minister of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) Chaudhry Abdul Majeed had warned Islamabad against any attempt to convert Gilgit-Baltistan into a federal province.

"Gilgit-Baltistan is part and parcel of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Any attempt to merge it into Pakistan will deal a fatal blow to our stand in the light of UN resolutions envisaging right to self-determination for the Kashmiris," Majeed had said at a press conference in Muzaffarabad.

Kashmiri leaders have also expressed concern over the moves to convert Gilgit-Baltistan into the fifth province of Pakistan.
Read more at http://www.thestatesman.com/news/latest-headlines/gilgit-baltistan-issue-may-worsen-india-pakistan-ties/115301.html#QkRU6tuSIzREqAIF.99

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