Explained: How Gilgit-Baltistan becoming an official province of Pakistan impacts India and why this makes no case for amending Article 370

Pakistan's proposal to make Gilgit Baltistan as its fifth province as drawn sharp calls to scrap Article 370 in India

Pakistan is planning on officially declaring Gilgit Baltistan as its fifth province, in a move that would make the mountainous region an integral part of Pakistan. Gilgit-Baltistan is one of two regions lying in the disputed Pakistani Kashmir region, which is claimed by India as its “integral part” but has been governed by Pakistan since the Partition of the subcontinent in 1947. “Azad Kashmir” (as Pakistan calls it) is the other disputed province that’s controlled by Islamabad.

India calls Pakistan as an illegal occupier in the strategically important region, which also has a large Chinese economic presence in the form of $46 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

A report in Pakistan’s Geo TV on Wednesday quoted a government minister, Riaz Hussain Pirzada, telling that the proposal to make Gilgit-Baltistan as the fifth part of Pakistan had been floated by a committee spearheaded by the National Security Adviser (NSA), Sartaj Aziz.

The minister was quoted as saying, “The committee recommended that Gilgit-Baltistan should be made a province of Pakistan.”

Gilgit Baltistan

The seven districts in the Gilgit Baltistan province (Image courtesy: Dawn).

According to government and security experts quoted in Pakistani media, Islamabad was apparently carrying out the historic move in response to Chinese concerns over the CPEC. The Beijing-sponsored economic corridor takes up approximately 400 kms of Gilgit Baltistan’s territory. India has repeatedly asked of China to not pursue any project in the disputed territory. Beijing has been largely dismissive of India’s concerns until now.

Since 1947, Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir have been governed as autonomous provinces in varying degrees by successive Pakistani administrations. As of now, both Gilgit Baltistan and Azad Kashmir are considered as disputed territories on the international stage, including at the United Nations.

How does it affect India?

Pakistan’s proposal, should it become reality, could have massive political and security implications in India. Successive Indian leaderships have claimed Jammu and Kashmir (including the disputed parts under Islamabad’s control) in entirety. The scrapping of a special Indian constitutional provision, known as Article 370, has been an important demand of the core supporter base of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Article 370 affords special status to the part of Kashmir governed by India (Jammu and Kashmir).

The news about Pakistan considering integrating Gilgit Baltistan into its territory drew sharp reactions both on Indian social media as well as from separatist leaders of Kashmir.

(Source: Twitter/Anshul Saxena)

However, one needs to question, if Gilgit-Baltistan and Jammu and Kashmir can be compared.

Here’s how the provinces ended up on either side of the border

The whole of Jammu and Kashmir had been part of the Dogra kingdom for nearly a century until 1947, when a choice presented itself for all the princely states on the subcontinent to join either of India or Pakistan. The procrastination on part of local ruler Hari Singh complicated matters for the kingdom’s population. After Pakistan moved in troops to force a quick decision on Hari Singh, he agreed ceding to India on some preconditions, which are enshrined in Article 370.

In Gilgit-Baltistan, meanwhile, a local commander, Colonel Mirza Hassan Khan, successfuly carried out a rebellion against Hari Singh and declared independence for the province. The local authorities of Gilgit Baltistan then reportedly approached Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah to seek his permission to join Pakistan. Jinnah duly obliged.

According to Karachi’s Dawn, before Pakistan could fully absorb the province, the dispute went global and international powers asked both the countries to carry out a plebiscite to determine the status of the entire Jammu and Kashmir. The stalemate continues to this day.

The Indian government has maintained that Gilgit Baltistan is an integral part of India. The external affairs ministry had last year stated that the whole of Jammu and Kashmir belonged to India by “virtue of its accession in 1947.”

Exiled Kashmiri separatist leader and the foreign affairs secretary of United Kashmir People’s National Party (UKPNP), Jamil Maqsood, criticised Islamabad for not taking the local population of Gilgit-Baltistan into confidence,

(Source: ANI/Twitter)