Donald Trump or Joe Biden? All eyes are on one of the most momentous event of our times over there in America. But back here in South Asia, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s promise Sunday that Gilgit-Baltistan will provisionally become Pakistan’s fifth province is so crucial that it bears some explanation – especially since it has led to stern criticism by India, which maintains that the move amounts to changing the character of the “undivided state of Jammu & Kashmir”, all of which belongs to India.
So what does Imran Khan’s announcement mean? Is this a reaction to Narendra Modi’s move to revoke Article 370 last year and integrate J&K into India? Has the Pakistan PM finally abandoned his country’s long-held position of Jammu & Kashmir being a “disputed territory”?
Let me explain.
Why Gilgit-Baltistan matters
Imran Khan’s decision is really a defensive move on the Great Game chessboard that began in 1877 when the British persuaded the Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir to establish the Gilgit Agency and nominated a Political Agent to watch over and prevent the expanding ambitions of the Russian empire from reaching the warm waters of the Arabian Sea.
That chess game seems to have reached all the way into August 2019 when the Modi government decided to revoke Article 370, which gave special status to the former state, converting it into two Union Territories, thereby enabling their direct rule from New Delhi.
So here is the Pakistani argument: If Delhi can rip apart the fig-leaf and unilaterally bring J&K and Ladakh under its rule, why can’t Pakistan do the same with Gilgit-Baltistan?
Moreover, there’s China, whose $60 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) enters Pakistan at Gilgit-Baltistan, and traverses the country southwards until it reaches Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea. For years, the Chinese have been pushing Pakistan to give Gilgit-Baltistan legal status so as to protect this all-important corridor, which is a key link in President Xi Jinping’s most important instrument of international influence, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Certainly, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), whose manifestos have always loudly proclaimed the end of Articles 370 and 35A, never fully thought through the international implications of the move. Or if New Delhi’s foreign policy establishment warned the politicians, it clearly seems as if no one really listened.
But in this part of the world, geography trumps politics.
Also read: Pakistan security division says Imran’s Gilgit-Baltistan move could hurt ‘Kashmir movement’
Geography over politics
This is Silk Road country, where trade caravans reached goods and people over centuries into nation-states with malleable frontiers, enriching all their economies. The Uyghurs of Xinjiang, the Sunni Muslims of Leh and south Kashmir, the Shias of Kargil and Skardu and Gilgit, and the Ismailis and Noorbakshis of Gilgit-Baltistan lived and died under the shifting empires of China, Tibet and the Dogra Maharaja.
In Gilgit-Baltistan, there are Kashmiri Muslims and Punjabi Kashmiri Muslims – as well as Shins, Kashgaris, Yashkuns, Pamiris, Pathans, and Kohistanis – with their distinct languages and traditions. Then, in the 1980s, Zia-ul Haq promulgated an order to allow people from elsewhere in Pakistan to settle in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and Gilgit-Baltistan, thereby changing the demography of the region – much like the Modi government is doing today by changing J&K’s land laws.
A quick glance at a map of the region will display Gilgit-Baltistan’s incredible potential and geostrategic importance. No wonder this was the heart of the Great Game a hundred years ago.
In West Gilgit-Baltistan – part of the undivided J&K state until 1947 — lies the tongue of Afghan territory, the Wakhan Corridor. Northwards are the five ‘stans’ of Central Asia – five Muslim states Russified by the Soviet Union and still trying to discover themselves since that disintegration in late 1991. While north by north-east, nestling close to China’s Xinjiang, lie the jumble of mountain ranges with names that smell of thunder and other celestial beings. Kara-ko-rum. Al-tai. Tian-shan.
Also read: Pakistan’s ‘upgrade’ of Gilgit-Baltistan is linked to the India-China stand-off
Crossroads of empire
Imagine the scene in 1947. No wonder Hari Singh, the Hindu maharaja of Kashmir, dithered and sought a Standstill Agreement between the warring parties, India and Pakistan. Why would anyone want to give up this enormous kingdom where everyone had lived comfortably – sort of – until now?
But when the Qabalis, or so-called tribal militias – some say, Pakistan army irregulars in tribal clothing – crossed into J&K on 22 October 1947, Hari Singh threw in his lot with India and signed the Instrument of Accession on 26 October. One week later, on 1 November, the Gilgit Scouts under their British commander mutinied against the Maharaja and declared a separate provincial government – Imran Khan commemorated the territory’s 73rd “independence day” while speaking in Gilgit Sunday. On 1 January 1948, Jawaharlal Nehru’s India took the Kashmir dispute to the United Nations (UN). By mid-1948, Indian Army troops had pushed back the Pakistan Army and taken back large parts of Kashmir.
Hari Singh’s kingdom was broken up, to be administered in different ways: India gave J&K and Ladakh special status under Article 370, Pakistan gave Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, or Azad Kashmir as it is called in Pakistan, its own prime minister, president and unicameral legislature.
Gilgit-Baltistan was given some sort of nominally independent status but neither formally merged, nor given a legislature – it was directly ruled from Rawalpindi/Islamabad. It sat at the crossroads of empire. It was too important to be left fully alone.
Moreover, Pakistan feared, as did PoK’s leaders, that its case at the UN for self-determination of the “disputed territory” of J&K would get diluted if there was any hint of either PoK or Gilgit-Baltistan’s formal merger with Pakistan.
All this changed dramatically on 5 August 2019.
Also read: Why Pakistan is keeping mum about India-China LAC conflict
The Modi government’s decision to revoke Article 370 for domestic political reasons has led to a slow earthquake — the new contours of this region, still not fully understood, are emerging only now.
First, if Modi could, in one stroke, go beyond the UN resolution and integrate its own part of J&K, then why couldn’t Pakistan do the same with Gilgit-Baltistan?
Significantly, Pakistan Army chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa met all the key opposition parties in September to explain what was coming – certainly, in Pakistan, nothing can be done without it being masterminded by the Army.
Second, China, as we have seen, has been pushing the Pakistanis to give Gilgit-Baltistan some sort of legal status so as to protect CPEC which runs across it. According to the widely respected American journalist Selig Harrison, the Chinese have military personnel stationed in Gilgit-Baltistan for some years now.
Third, China put out in June that India unilaterally changed the status quo by revoking Article 370, thereby posing a “challenge to the sovereignty of China and Pakistan and made India-Pakistan relations and China-India relations more complex.”
Certainly, China knows better than to aggress into someone else’s territory; moreover, China could have asked India — and been explained — the meaning of the 5 August move if it was really so worried.
The Chinese took the easy way out. It read, in the legalistic change of the status of Jammu & Kashmir, the message that New Delhi could take stronger action in neighbouring Aksai Chin, because it controlled it directly, instead of via Srinagar. Except, of course, it is China which has controlled Aksai Chin since 1963 and has built several key highways through it connecting to Tibet.
Also read: China has taken LAC clock back to 1959. India not in a position to take back Aksai Chin
‘Map-making must come to an end’
There is another message in Imran Khan’s move that has got little attention so far – by formally recognising Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan is also slowly abandoning its long-held position of Kashmir as ‘disputed territory’.
Imran Khan, via the Army, is acknowledging that Modi’s move to integrate Jammu, Kashmir Valley and Ladakh into India is not going to be undone. Therefore, Pakistan has no option but to keep the part of Kashmir that it has controlled since 1947 – PoK and Gilgit Baltistan.
Modi’s move, in fact, is an assertion of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh’s much-quoted line in the wake of the Kargil conflict: Map-making in the subcontinent must come to an end.
Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh reiterated that message to Pervez Musharraf in Agra in 2001 and afterward, again and again – but Pakistan didn’t listen. Almost 20 years later, as China asserts itself in South Asia, it seems to be telling its ‘client state’, Pakistan, the same thing.
Let’s take a look at the map again at this point: China is in control of vast territories in India’s Ladakh, the adjacent Shaksgam valley, which Pakistan illegally ceded to China in 1963 after India lost the 1962 conflict with China, and Gilgit-Baltistan next door through CPEC.
The Chinese aren’t coming, they are already here.
Views are personal.
Malhotra keep your view personal and to yourself only dont publish for silly TRPs. Looks like you have screwed up mind. It hardly matter who is in control of a place unless and until there is peace. Neither modi nor xi and nor imran (sic) can take the land with them when they die. Let peace prevail and there be fair movement and rights for all.
Should India take permission from China and Pakistan to make its constitutional amendments.
Being anti-Modi is ok, don’t be anti-India dumb author. Shame on you.
Laanat hai tujh par. Sharm kar, Allah se darr.
Somewhere in these columns I had read a commentator who had written he read the Print articles for having a good laugh. I cant say that. For such good laughs I would as well see some Tom and Jerry cartoons. I read these articles to understands how idiots and traitors think about serious issues.
The author has a brain equivalent of the size of a pea. With or without abrogation of 370, China and Pakistan would have done what they already are doing. Atleast with the abrogation of 370, India can now act decisively instead of having one hand tied behind our back. We can now decisively go after gilgit baltistan and claim the land. The people in that land who have illegally occupied that land can return back to Pakistan.
No.. plain stupid story
India Godi RSS BJP abolishing of Art370 carry great consequence, as its an glaring India-US military collaborated direct threat to China’s Arsai Chin, the strategic land with only link for Xinjiang & Tibet, CPEC and entire Xinjiang-Tibet security.
China had called a closed door UNSC meeting to address India unilateral illegal annexed of J&K. The outcome is unknown, but UNSC, US & Russia failed to condemn India officially.
Hence likely US-Russia are siding India, so Pak has the legal & moral stand now to annex its controlled Kashmir & Gilgit-Balochistan.
China will has also gain legal stand now to take back entire Ladakh, part of Qing dynasty’s Tibet occupied by Kashmir Raj few centuries ago. It will also regain back South Tibet (India invaded and renamed as Anurachal using Brits Raj illegal McMahon line) in lieu time. To protect its under soft belly from India-US axis security threat, China will have no choice but to abandon its 70yrs of peaceful co-existence & Asia Century prosperous policy with India. China will now have to suppress India both military and economically perpetually, until India Union is disintegrated back to pre-Brits Raj era. Ladakh confrontation is just the beginning. South Tibet will be next.
We will also see India illegally invaded NEast states like Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram,.. to gain support from China for their liberation fighting, Sikkim & Bhutan regaining independent, Nepal regaining all its lost lands like Darjeeling…Modi RSS BJP has dig the grave for Endia to bury itself, instead of riding on China wave to rise up peacefully for a Asia Century free from West hegemony.
Whoever u r why r u hiding?So when China invaded Tibet that was OK?Your article is leaning towards in favor of China and appears that u r a muslim?
Why should we give a rats ass about what Pakistan thinks? Gilgit Baltistan belongs to us be accession of Kashmir. We should endeavour to get it back.
Shame on you Shekhar Kutta and shame on The Print.
Kuchh toh tehzeeb rakhiye Janaab.
Is it ,in author’s genes, always to belittle India.
It’s started that one not to eat the that feed you and the author is lucky that he/ she lives in a free state elsewhere/she knows what happens to people with opinion like this in whose favour they write these articles
Article 370 was revoked not for political reason, it is to make India a secular state, where special treatment of mulim majority area is removed. With this move LAC wil become the new IB. A good way to solve kashmir problem.
We were living in a make believe map until now!!!
Consider the ethnic / religious diversity of a relatively small province like Gilgit Baltistan. How close any of these groups would feel to the Nagas, the Tamils, the Maharashtrians. If one views everything as a piece of land to have dominion / sovereignty over, the Instrument of Accession gives India an irrefutable claim to all of the Dogra kingdom. However, if people are the basis – as the move for an independent Scotland implies – then perhaps we should accept with good grace that map making on the subcontinent has come to an end.
This comment basically questions the genesis of India’s existence as a nation state.
India’s claims on GB, Aksai Chin are nothing but a bargaining chip to ensure our neighbours give up their claims on our territory.
We already made a mistake by officially recognising one-china policy in exchange for Chinese recognition of Sikkim. It was a lopsided agreement and we’re paying the price today.
If the diplomats warned the politicians, as if no one really listened … That thought has often come to mind, in the context of foreign policy decisions that have not worked out well. Equally, decisions relating to the economy and most other domains. Despite such an enormous media presence in Delhi, the workings of the government, its decision making processes, where the true loci of power lie, remain almost completely opaque. Some might regard that as a strength, running a tight ship. However, if one views outcomes, that level of secrecy has not worked well for any stakeholder. Nor has it left space for informed debate, feedback, reflection, course correction. An Arctic ice cutter, which views all around it as a hostile force to be smashed through with unyielding force.
Jyotiji’s column has flashes of the language FS Nirupama Rao uses, a pleasure to read.
This is a good thing to happen. India can never wrest Gilgit Baltistan and POK from Pakistan. So this move by pakis is good to set the things. Why worry about something you cannot control. Modi move is really good , what zia ul Haq did in 80’s we are doing now. Better late than never.
I don’t think the August 5 move was just for Domestic politics. Even if abrogation of 370 has always been a part of BJP & RSS thinking , Modi and India’s Foreign policy establishment along with NSA are totally aware about its implications Geo strategically. Just ASSUMING that the step was for domestic audience is not fair even if you have a low opinion of BJP & RSS intellect but they were very well aware that abrogation of Article 370 wouldn’t be inconsequential.
Surprisingly Jyoti did not say that there is a conspiracy between Xi, Modi and Imran to apportion J&K on the basis of ‘as is and where is’ formula!! And abolition of Art 370 was just a part one of that grand plan.
But if indeed she were to say so, she would not be really wrong. There is no solution to the J&K problem except to accept the present LOC as international boundary and then ending terrorism and settles remaining all the other disputes to start a friendly relations between India and Pakistan. China can then build its CPEC and turn Pakistan into its colony.
Ideally, China should also settle the disputes on the Chou En Lai’s package deal formula by making some adjustment in Ladakh and giving up claims in Arunchal Pradesh and then live in peace with India thereafter (and enjoy trade surplus!!).
If Xi, Modi and Imran could enter into a conspiracy, all our troubles would be over …
“Vajpayee and Jaswant Singh reiterated that message to Pervez Musharraf in Agra in 2001 and afterward, again and again – but Pakistan didn’t listen”
Inaccurate statement by the author. Musharraf was also willing to discuss further with India but at the Agra talks it was Advani who insisted that such a partition of J&K must not be agreed to.
Comments are closed.