Accused of conducting a fraudulent “election” in the 'provisional' province of Gilgit- Baltistan (GB), Pakistan is now planning to split the region and absorb it in the mainland, in tune with the demands of “iron brother” China.
Highly placed sources have revealed to IndiaNarrative.com that, after taking approval from the Army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Imran Khan is now set to engage in massive administrative engineering, disregarding India’s territorial claims over Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, which includes GB. Under the ill-conceived, if not dangerous design, Pakistan wants to merge Muzaffarabad with Abbottabad district; Hajira, Bagh, Rawalakot, Abbaspur, Trarkhal, Kotli with Rawalpindi, Murree and Mirpur; and, Bhimber with Jhelum, Lalamusa and Gujrat.
India has firmly rejected the Pakistani establishment effort, including the recent elections in GB, to alter the status of areas that New Delhi has repeatedly asserted are an integral part of India.
New Delhi has slammed Pakistan’s recent decision, asserting that GB is ‘illegally and forcibly’ occupied by Islamabad and that the latter has no locus standi to alter its status. The Ministry of External Affairs reiterated that ‘the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, including the area of so-called “Gilgit-Baltistan”, are an integral part of India by virtue of the legal, complete and irrevocable accession of Jammu and Kashmir to the Union of India in 1947’.
In recent months India’s protestation have begun to echo among the people of POK, who have organised credible protests against Islamabad’s attempts to make unilateral cartographic and administrative changes, including GB’s conversion into the fifth province of the country. “GB elections were a power grab scam which enabled the federal government in Pakistan to ‘select’ a toothless rubber stamp legislative assembly” writes human rights activist Amjad Ayub Mirza in an article on IndiaNarrative.com.
Analysts say that behind Pakistan’s move, China’s shadow looms large. “China has been pushing Pakistan to grant Gilgit-Baltistan constitutional status since the inception of CPEC to avoid risking backlash over investment in a disputed region and to surpass roadblocks to buying land,” says an article published in South Asian voices.
“China does not want to risk its investment in a disputed territory and has prompted Islamabad to fix the legal status of the GB,” said a senior foreign ministry official, as quoted by website trtworld.com. There are at least three primary reasons that draws Beijing towards the region.
First, China wishes to leverage GB’s unique strategic location, which is central to fulfilling its dream to implant its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the key to Beijing’s rise as an unrivalled great power. GB, the northern spur of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), shares borders with Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor, China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Ladakh, and Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. The BRI is Chinese leader Xi Jinping pet project of connecting the Eurasian supercontinent with China through a network of roads, railways, cyber connectivity pathways and much more.
Second, GB is critical to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) — touted by Beijing as the “flagship” of the BRI, which also radiates the China Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC), among others, to consolidate Beijing’s influence in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific. GB provides the sole overland link between China and Pakistan. All CPEC roads, railway lines, and oil and gas pipelines connecting Pakistan with China have to pass through this territory. Having pitched billions of dollars in CPEC infra projects, risk-averse China has been prodding Pakistan since 2015 to confer constitutional validity to the region, in a bid to legalize its investments.
Third, GB is rich in mineral resources, including marble, gold and uranium that Beijing wants to exploit. In May 2019, Pakistan’s Board of Investments (BoI) approved establishing Moqpondass Special Economic Zone about 40 km from the city of Gilgit, as part of nine similar fast-tracked investments. The proposed SEZ is spread over 250 acres focusing on the region’s reserves of marble, granite, fruit, minerals and leather. It is located on the Skardu-Gilgit highway, 160 km from Skardu airport. The Sust dry port catering to this SEZ is 200 km away.
The region has never seen massive destruction on such scandalously huge scale. So, maybe Imran Khan is right when he said during his speech in Giligit-Baltistan Wednesday that, "no Prime Minister in Pakistan has seen this region the way I have."