Pakistan PM says he will upgrade status of Gilgit-Baltistan
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has that his government will give provisional provincial status to a portion of Kashmir, drawing condemnation from India, which has long objected to any such changes.
Khan’s proposal would apply to the strategically important Gilgit-Baltistan region bordering Afghanistan and China.
Gilgit-Baltistan is Pakistan’s only land link to China, which is the northern part of the larger Kashmir region. Both Delhi and Islamabad have claimed all of Kashmir since gaining independence 73 years ago, and have fought two wars over the territory.
“We have made a decision to grant provisional provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan, which has long been the demand here,” Khan said while addressing a political rally in the city of Gilgit.
The proposal is unlikely to face opposition within Pakistan, where opposition political parties met secretly with the country’s army and intelligence chiefs in September to discuss the issue, lending their backing to the upgrade of Gilgit-Baltistan’s status.
In India, however, Khan’s announcement drew sharp criticism from the Foreign Ministry, which “firmly rejects the attempt by Pakistan”.
Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava said, Delhi “firmly rejects the attempt by Pakistan to bring material changes to a part of Indian territory, under its illegal and forcible occupation.”
Last year, India angered Pakistan by announcing changes to the status of Kashmir, taking away some of the region’s privileges by abrogating Article 370 and 35A.
Both sides control parts of Kashmir, which is divided between them by a United Nations-mandated “Line of Control”. UN observers are still stationed in the region.
Kashmir has carried a vague constitutional status in both countries since 1947 to accommodate for a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution on the dispute. While full details were not immediately disclosed, Khan’s proposal appears likely to bring the region closer to the status of Pakistan’s other federating provinces.
Khan said the decision was within the scope of the UNSC resolution. He gave no time-frame for its implementation. Such a move would require a constitutional amendment in Pakistan, which must be passed by two-thirds of Pakistan’s parliament.
Khan’s visit to the area comes ahead of an election for a Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly, to be held on November 15. The body, created in 2009, has few powers, and the region is largely governed directly by Islamabad.
India’s foreign ministry has already objected to the election, saying Pakistan illegally occupies the territory.