Tuesday, February 7, 2023
HomeOpinionPakistan’s 'upgrade' of Gilgit-Baltistan is linked to the India-China stand-off

Pakistan’s ‘upgrade’ of Gilgit-Baltistan is linked to the India-China stand-off

The ‘inclusion’ of Gilgit-Baltistan into Pakistan legalises the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor activity in the region, and allows greater Chinese ingress.

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Pakistan seems to have tied itself into another knot. Just a day after waving its irrational map that claims Kashmir, Junagadh and other Indian territories at the virtual meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation on 15 September, it now seems that Islamabad, in a U-turn of the century, is about to incorporate Gilgit-Baltistan into a full-fledged province. If we go by Pakistan’s stance of 73 years, the changes would mean that the Kashmir dispute is over, and the two neighbours had better take a sharp red pencil and turn the Line of Control into an international border. But nothing is ever simple where Pakistan is concerned. It seems Rawalpindi would like to have the cake and eat it too, particularly when the cake is made in China.

For one, the proposed ‘inclusion’ of Gilgit-Baltistan into Pakistan legalises the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) activity in the region, and allows Beijing greater ingress. Second, if the India-China conflict flares up, and Pakistan opens a second front, Kashmir would truly get internationalised, with the United Nations forced to step in; a process that has been foreseen by Indian officials but with one important difference – Pakistan gets to keep Gilgit-Baltistan, even as its multicoloured map expands its claims. If there is a war, to the victor goes the spoils. And given the way the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) works, possession is nine points of the law. Things just got more interesting.

Also read: Lesson from Ladakh — India & China were both rising together until China just raced away

At SCO, Pakistan was playing for high stakes

Pakistan can’t be faulted for sheer effrontery. It may be recalled that a mild stir had been created by Pakistan’s move of publishing a map that showed not just Kashmir, but also Sir Creek, Junagadh, and Siachen Glacier as part of its territory. Twitter and officialdom laughed it to scorn, and there it ended. It was this map that Pakistan’s representative saw fit to display at the SCO meeting, thus violating Article 2 of the charter of the organisation, which bars such cartographic adventurism. While National Security Advisor Ajit Doval left the meeting, the annoyance of the Russian side should be evaluated from the fact that Moscow is expecting about a billion dollars from the sale of 21 MiG-29 fighter aircraft to New Delhi. Pakistan was playing for high stakes, which was to make its absurd map ‘official’ by presenting it at a multilateral forum where China is the dominant member. That map, critically, also shows the Ladakh border as un-demarcated. No guesses as to who prodded Islamabad into this.

On 16 September, Pakistan’s Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit-Baltistan, Ali Amin Khan Gandapur — the man who threatened a missile attack on any country supporting India — announced that the Imran Khan government had decided to give constitutional rights to Gilgit-Baltistan, the last colony in the world.

Separated from the larger Kashmir after the war by ‘tribals’ in 1947, the region underwent another surgery through the ‘Karachi Agreement’ of April 1949, signed between a Pakistani minister, the Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) ‘President’ and the representative of the Muslim Conference. The agreement, which existed in secrecy till about 1990, hived off an area more than five times the size of the so-called ‘Azad Kashmir’, to form what was then vaguely called the Northern Areas. It was kept in a state of limbo — constitutionally not Pakistani ‘territory’, nor part of ‘Kashmir’, but completely controlled by the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs back in Islamabad.

That’s how things stood for 73 years, with even the Pakistan Supreme Court refusing to allow any change in the region’s status, since it would impinge on Pakistan’s ‘principled’ stance on the Kashmir dispute. It is this key component of its Kashmir policy that Islamabad has chosen to overturn ostensibly to win over the people in local elections in November. This reason hardly seems unlikely, given the harried status of the two large opposition parties — the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Pakistan Muslim League (N) — and their leaders. Moreover, the civilian government has no power to decide on such a course without the military’s nod. And the military is not at all interested in providing any rights to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.

There are two possible reasons for this watershed change in policy.

Also read: India needs new foreign affairs ambassadors — India Inc, think tanks and academicians

Easing Chinese access

First, the legalising of Pakistan’s stranglehold over Gilgit-Baltistan means that roadblocks to Chinese investors in setting up industry or buying up land will be removed. No bank worth its bonds will give loans to a project where the issuance of a title of ownership of the land (Pakistani/Kashmiri/local) is unclear. Indeed, the Minister for Kashmir Affairs Ali Amin Khan Gandapur also announced that the Chinese-financed Moqpondass SEZ (special economic zone) will now go ahead. This project takes up 250 acres officially and 500 acres unofficially. Earlier, the land was sought to be acquired under the archaic rules of the Dogra period, which allowed takeover of community land without compensation. That naturally led to protests. Another project in nearby Diamer was taken over under a different set of rules altogether. This medley of confusing rules led to delays, including in the Chinese-financed Gilgit KIU Hydropower plant, or even for private Chinese citizens acquiring land. Giving full constitutional status to the former colony removes these anomalies.

There is, however, a second likelihood, which is linked to the timing of this decision.

Also read: India can’t afford a knee-jerk reaction on the LAC. That’s what China is hoping for

LAC conflict and its shadow on Pakistan

That the conflict between India and China in Ladakh could spin out of control is an open secret. Remember that Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat has warned of a two-front war. It would seem that Pakistan is trying to ensure that, should India and Pakistan (and China) come to the point of an open war in Kashmir, this part of Kashmir remains constitutionally safe, and out of reach of any meddling United Nations resolutions that will come into play as hostilities break out.

Pakistan has thrice tried to get the Kashmir issue into the agenda of the UNSC, with the support of China, on the grounds that after the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir, there is heightened danger of war between the two nuclear powers. Each time, the UNSC has dismissed it as a bilateral issue and not relevant for discussion. With not two but three nuclear powers involved now, the UN will be there in a jiffy.

Either or both scenarios favour the two all-weather friends.

The author is former director, National Security Council Secretariat. Views are personal.

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  1. I am sure the government of India will not give their plans to media or anyone on how they will get Gilgit back. So relax and see what happens next. All these comments of no it can’t or won’t are nothing but based on negative mindset and weak mindset. India today is very different but Pakistan is the same trying to cling to anything and anyone even at the cost of its own destruction. That is where the difference is.

  2. The people in Azad Kashmir and IOK are Muslims. It’s obvious why they don’t want to live in a repressive Hindutva state.

  3. Pakistan is upgrading GB into a full province instead of ruling from Islamabad, India divided and stripped Kashmir of statehood and rules it directly from Delhi like a colony. One moved forwards, the other backwards.

  4. Pakistan is going to get colonised by China.

    They donated Shaksgam Valley to the Chinese, now gradually it will be Gilgit Baltistan’s turn.

    The Chinese are strategic fellas and at all costs want connectivity to the oil coming from the Gulf so that no power can block them in the Indian Ocean shipping routes. They have reached out to Iran as well now.

    We have limited options to counter China unless we grow our economy, collect more taxes, improve our social indicators and reduce corruption.

  5. I hope that FILTHIA the so called INDIA have more of such DELUSIONAL S as this writer.
    The BOTTOM LINE which escapes the attention of many in FILTHIA is that people on the streets of SRINAGAR or MIRPUR are likely to chant the slogan; BHARAT MURDABAD.

  6. Still do not understand how it legitimizes CPEC being constructed in a disputed Kashmir region illegally occupied by Pakistan. Even though india has the documents. How does it legitimize? Kuch bhi. Author seems out of his mind.

  7. The author is biased of course. Ignore what is said in the article. 5 minutes of my life that I will never get back.

  8. Very nice comment for further progress of both the counties and for the well-being of two nations. Save this heavy defence spendings and lives of our soldiers instead use it for upgrading the living standards of their citizens.

  9. Considering the kind of weaponry available to both countries it is HIGHLY unlikely that either can realistically reclaim the other side of Kashmir. Though to the average BJP voter explaining that especially on social media results in flowery phrases like “Bhosdi ke” and other wonderful prose. The truth is neither intends to budge on this issue and with China / CPEC now involved the reality is Gilgit-Balistan will formally become a part of Pakistan as India has claimed its part of it on Aug 5 2019. Creating and encouraging delusions of reclaiming is great for votes and unites the people against a common enemy etc but the ground reality is not changing no matter how many gaalis are flung across. The Indian Military knows this, the Politicians know this….the masses…well….that’s a whole other story…Best solution would be to covert the current line of control as the border and Move the F on…but that is waayy too much to ask…So let’s continue fighting! 🙂

    • You have captured it well…but no leader present or future will want to look weak in front of the masses.

      For many in India it looked like the Aug 5 2019 article 370 amendment was a masterstroke but in reality it will not have any impact on territories we lost already.

  10. Let us look at the issue in a different context. When CPEC was formalized, given the massive financial investment and strategic significance it entailed, China was expected to put pressure on Pak to legalize the status of GB thereby indirectly ending the J&K dispute. India would have shouted and protested and of course, passed one more Parliamentary resolution reiterating J&K being integral part of India etc. but nothing more would have come out of it. Over a period of time, LOC would become IB!. Surprisingly, that did not happen. Meanwhile, Modi undid art 370 and grabbed Indian part of J&K!

    Now the hard question to ask is- do we really need POK and GB? Can we actually manage it? GB is different from POK in any case. One way to handle it is – offer original version of Art 370 to POK with Indian Kashmir (excluding Jammu) and GB under Indian sovereignty and cut off physical link between two conjoined brothers!!

    But all this is easier said than done. So let us howl and shout but quietly agree to what is happening on the ground and watch the fun ! We can neither take it by force nor otherwise. Let us accept it. Aksai Chin and Ladakh is another story of course. Let us forget the past and the grave mistakes of Nehru and remember him for the red roses he would pin on is pocket and of course, for IIT, Steel plants, space and atomic program, Bhakra Nangal etc etc.

    • We are not even able to improve standards of living in the territories we administer.

      What is the use of so much emotion about our lost territories. These were anyway inherited from the British and did not belong to Hindus. Let us focus on what we have and improve our living conditions in rest of India.

      Our diplomats will have to continue in international forums protesting the illegality of whatever Pakistan and China have done but there is nothing more we can really do. We cannot go to war either.

    • Forget Aksai Chin and Gilgit Baltistan. Our governments may issue statements once in a while but we have really limited options.

      Kashmir issue will have some attention internationally once in a while but not Gilgit Baltistan or Aksai Chin. Internationally there will be no noise on these 2 lost areas.

      But at same time we have to hold on to Siachen and DBO and not give it up no matter what.

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