Gilgit Baltistan – Elections and the issue of New Province

Elections in Gilgit Baltistan (GB), also known as Northern Areas of Pakistan, will be held on November 15, 2020. The Government of Pakistan has indicated its desire that after the elections, GB may be declared as a new province of Pakistan. This initiative apparently looks good, but it is easier said than done.

Any initiative regarding the restructuring of GB should be seen in the larger context of the Kashmir issue. Historically, GB was part of Kashmir. At the time of the partition of Pakistan and India, the people of GB struggled for the affiliation of GB with Pakistan and successfully revolted against the local army. As a result, Maharaja was removed from the power and Shah Rais Khan was made the new governor. However, according to the resolutions of the United Nations, the fate of the whole Kashmir including GB will be decided through the plebiscite in Kashmir, in which Kashmiris will decide whether they want to live with Pakistan, India or they want to make Kashmir an autonomous state.

GB was part of Jammu and Kashmir. However, because of the struggle of the native people, GB came under the control of Pakistan in 1948. GB has strategic importance due to being the main entrance for CPEC (China-Pakistan Economic Corridor). The Government of Pakistan has introduced a loosely-held administrative structure in GB that is managed by a governor and a chief minister. However, Pakistan has still not merged GB into Pakistan because Kashmiris oppose such an arrangement. They argue that GB is also part of the whole disputed Kashmir territory and its fate should also be decided together with other parts of Kashmir.

As part of the reforms agenda of the Pakistan Peoples Party, the seats of the Northern Area Council were increased from 18 to 26. In the assembly of GB, there are a total of 33 seats, out of which 24 are general seats, 6 women seats, and 3 seats for technocrats.

Political analysts say that the Government of Pakistan should evaluate all factors before declaring GB as a new province. The initiative may be projected negatively as if Pakistan has accepted the current line of control between Pakistan and India. Pakistan will lose its moral strength on the Kashmir issue by denying the right of self-determination to GB people, where the territory is also part of Kashmir as per the United States resolution.

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