Gilgit-Baltistan Annexation by Pakistan Government

Gilgit-Baltistan, an area of the undivided state of Jammu & Kashmir occupied by Pakistan since 1947 is about to be illegally annexed by Islamabad

19 September 2020

Hunza in Gilgit-Baltistan: Pakistan Occupied

The Government of Pakistan has decided to officially annex the territory of Gilgit-Baltistan, an area disputed by India, into the Islamic Republic of Pakistan by converting it into the country's fifth province. This is in clear and blatant disregard of the official and historical reality of Gilgit-Baltistan being an irrevocable and integral part of the undivided state of Jammu & Kashmir as it existed in August 1947 prior to the illegal invasion of that state by Pakistani forces and its tribal allies.

Pakistan's minister for Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan Affairs, Ali Amin Gandapur, on 16 September 2020 said Prime Minister Imran Khan would soon visit Gilgit-Baltistan to make the formal announcement. In doing so, the Pakistan Prime Minister would be reneging on all promises to the international community, the United Nations as well as the people of Jammu & Kashmir.

For, Gilgit-Baltistan is part of undivided Jammu & Kashmir whose future, according to pledges made by Islamabad, was to be decided by the people of Jammu & Kashmir following the resolution of the J&K dispute between Pakistan and India. Legally, as per the terms of the Partition of India, agreed to by both the leaders of India and Pakistan, the future of this and other territories that had acceded to India were to be governed by the Indian state and its decision makers. Instead, the Pakistan Government has now decided to unilaterally alter the legal status of Gilgit-Baltistan by absorbing it fully into Pakistan and extending all laws and jurisdictions of the Pakistani state to that territory.

This is a move that needs to be resisted on legal, ethical and historical grounds. Moreover, the local inhabitants of Gilgit-Baltistan are bitterly opposed to the annexation of their supposedly 'free' region into Pakistan. This unilateral move to convert their territory into Pakistan's fifth province not only has no legal status and is contrary to international law but also does not have the approval of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan as no referendum or other means have been employed to ascertain whether or not they wish to become part of Pakistan.

Pakistan talks loudly and insincerely about the right of self-determination of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. If so, this right should extend to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan as it was part and parcel of the state before Pakistan's illegal occupation of it during 12947-48. However, Pakistan's duplicity has been evident ever since 1947 and there was no intention of granting any rights to the majority of the people and territories occupied by it following its invasion of J&K in 1947-48.

Soon after the end of hostilities between India and Pakistan, which was brokered by the United Nations on the premise that Pakistan would vacate all its military from all of J&K occupied by it (prior to a referendum), the Pakistan leaders cooked up a fraudulent deal called the Karachi Agreement of 1949 wherein Gilgit-Baltistan was hived off from the territory of J&K and placed under the direct administration of the Government of Pakistan. This was the first fraud and injustice committed against the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Much more was to follow over the decades of Pakistan occupation. In the meanwhile, a narrow crescent shaped territory of the western portions of J&K was permanently occupied by the Pakistan military and euphemistically named 'Azad Jammu & Kashmir'. Thus, a double fraud was committed on the people of the areas of J&K occupied by the Pakistan military.

Pakistan's rulers clearly wish to officially absorb this huge chunk of territory which covers more than 52,000 square miles and has some of the world's tallest mountains in it. Out of the total estimated area of the state of Jammu and Kashmir of 222,236 square kilometres, Gilgit-Baltistan comprises almost a third of the total territories with 72,496 square kilometres while the so-called Azad (Free) Jammu and Kashmir comprises only 5,703 square kilometres.

Over the decades. For all practical purposes the Pakistan Army has been running the affairs of the two entities created by them out of those portions of the undivided state of Jammu & Kashmir they had militarily occupied during 1947-48. These two territories were Gilgit-Baltistan and the so-called Azad Jammu & Kashmir. Legally, however, the Pakistan government continued to maintain the fiction that these were independent areas whose future would be decided following the resolution of the 'Kashmir' dispute.

Even in the early years, the Pakistan government tried to surreptitiously alter the real status of Gilgit-Baltistan. This they first did by designating as the 'Northern Areas' of Pakistan administered for all practical purposes as a Federally administered territory with headquarters in Gilgit. During this period, the infamous Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) Laws, framed by the colonial powers for use in the untamed Pathan border areas, was imposed here. The State-Subject Rule (which conferred complete land rights, among others) applicable to all citizens of J&K were removed, sectarian strife introduced and local rights movements ruthlessly suppressed. Later, as Islamabad silent sought to legally swallow the territory, its name was restored to Gilgit-Baltistan.

Political oppression in Gilgit-Baltistan is complete and total. No political activity can be carried without the concurrence of the Pakistan Army. European Parliament's rapporteur Baroness Emma Nicholson who travelled to the region and produced a report in 2007 which was presented to the European Parliament observed that all of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) was actually in 'chains' and Gilgit-Baltistan was a 'black hole' in today's world.

The first step towards annexation of Gilgit-Baltistan was taken in May 2018 with the Introduction of the Gilgit Baltistan Order the Gilgit Council was abolished and all powers supposedly transferred Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly. However, this order actually conferred extraordinary powers on the Pakistan Prime Minister who now had the final say on all its legislation and policies. This effectively stripped the Gilgit-Baltistan legislature and people of all authority and independence.

But Islamabad now wanted to go the whole hog and further subjugate the people of Gilgit-Baltistan by making them Pakistani subjects under its yoke. The military and political masters of Pakistan want total control over the land and resources of Gilgit-Baltistan for several reasons, one being the ambitious China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project which passes through the strategic region of Gilgit-Baltistan. For this Islamabad needs to extend its sovereignty and legal rights over Gilgit-Baltistan. Chinese pressure on this count is reported to have intensified since the border clashes between Indian and Chinese forces in eastern Ladakh.

The Pakistan military has long helped the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) to gain a foothold in this region. In the 1960s, Islamabad gifted 5,180 sq km of Gilgit-Baltistan to China. Since the middle of the 1970s, China started building roads through Gilgit-Baltistan into Pakistan through the Karakoram Pass. Land and other resources have been gifted to the Chinese for this. In return, Pakistan has been allowed to use the Karakoram route to secretly bring missiles from north Korea.

The local inhabitants of Gilgit-Baltistan have been protesting these moves but their voice has been crushed. While many key leaders have been assassinated by the Pakistan Army, hundreds of others are languishing in Pakistani jails and a fortunate few have managed to flee the country to continue voicing their opposition to Islamabad.

The legal status of Gilgit-Baltistan being a part of the undivided state of J&K has never been dismissed within Pakistan. Several court cases on this issue have upheld that position. Several years ago, this was confirmed, once again, by the High Court of Azad Kashmir. The court's Chief Justice, Abdul Majid Malik ruled that the legal position of these areas has not changed, and that they are still legal and constitutional part of Jammu and Kashmir.

In 2019, the Supreme Court of Pakistan gave an order on the constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan wherein it stated the region was an inseparable part of the Kashmir Issue and international law did not allow any attempt to assimilate the region into the body-politics of the Pakistani state. This verdict should have been clear enough to Pakistan's rulers.

However, the Pakistan establishment has time and again demonstrated its complete lack of ethical standards. It has governed the country through fraud and deceit, annexed areas such as Gilgit-Baltistan and Balochistan through lies, military force and political sleight of hand. Another massive political fraud is about to be committed in Gilgit-Baltistan, not just against the people of that region but against the international community that had promised to justly solve the problem J&K arising out of its military invasion by Pakistan in 1947-48.

Syed Hasnain Imam

19 September 2020