Pakistan is said to be considering the integration of the Gilgit-Baltistan region as part of its federation by giving it the constitutional status of a province. The move is apparently aimed at securing arrangements for the proposed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that will cut through the region. But the Nawaz Sharif government cannot be unaware of the fallout on the Kashmir issue as a whole.
The region is a part of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir that acceded to India in 1947, but it separately opted to accede to Pakistan. The accession was not acknowledged by Pakistan for fear of undermining its position on the entire state of J&K as “disputed” territory, and for the holding of a plebiscite under UN resolutions to decide its future. All these years, G-B has been ruled from Islamabad by executive fiat, and in real terms by the Pakistan military.
Its status is different from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, which has its own constitution setting out its relationship with Pakistan. In 2009, Pakistan made the first move towards changing its constitutional status by giving it an elected legislative assembly, but with no real powers. Though there is a small but vocal demand for independence, Pakistan’s latest plan will be welcomed by most sections of the people in G-B. India has protested the move as “unacceptable”. But the plan is really a step in the direction of a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue.
Such a resolution, as most far-seeing politicians in both India and Pakistan have known for years but lack the courage or the statesmanship to say, lies in accepting that the 1948 Ceasefire Line, which became the Line of Control in 1972 under the Simla Accord, cannot be changed by either of the two nuclear-armed nations.
The “four-point formula” on Kashmir, which Pakistan now refuses to acknowledge, comes closest to this understanding. Recognising that there can be no transfer of territory, this formula aimed nevertheless to bring the two sides of divided Kashmir closer. This is what the cross-LoC transport and trade links have aimed to do. The integration of Gilgit-Baltistan with Pakistan is of a piece with the thinking behind the four-point formula. Hurriyat’s vehement protest provides the best indication of what this plan means for Kashmir.