A fifth province

The next biggest step of the government is to declare Gilgit-Baltistan as the fifth province of Pakistan, the first new one since independence. The matter has been discussed in the federal cabinet and has the full support of the military leadership and opposition parties.

The decision to grant Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly the northern areas of Pakistan, constitutional status is part of greater geographical ambitions. It is a key requirement for the realisation of CPEC which is entering the second phase. The region is the gateway to China and beyond but its proximity to Kashmir has made it controversial. The Chinese now want an end to the dispute as it moves forward completing economic projects.

India will surely be rattled by the decision to grant provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan. It acted rather immaturely objecting to Pakistan’s displaying its political map during the SCO summit before its claims were rejected by China and Russia. Now India will make all efforts to make the move controversial and claims that it has weakened Pakistan’s stance on Kashmir.

India is currently in the standoff with China and the situation can escalate at any moment. Indian Chief of Defence Bipin Rawat has also hinted at a two-front war against Pakistan and China. In case that happens, Pakistan will have more control over the Gilgit-Baltistan region. By having a full constitutional claim to the region, Pakistan will be able to attract the attention of the world much easier.

Pakistan has made huge strides to bring the Kashmir dispute to the attention of the UN but the global body has dismissed it a bilateral issue and called for mediation. It would be much easier for Pakistan to involve the UN if Gilgit-Baltistan is given constitutional status. The move by Pakistan is well calculated and could yield much greater benefits.

The people of Gilgit-Baltistan need full citizenship rights like the rest of the country including the right to vote and enter parliament. The legislative assembly elections are unlikely to be held until new legislation is passed. It is imperative that the people of the region should be taken into confidence that the move will usher an era of development in the region.

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