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27 February 2020

An alternative solution for the Stauts of Gilgit Baltistan

Asif Ali Ashraf
The writer can be reached at asifaliashraf91 [at] gmail.com

The constitutional status of Gilgit-Baltistan has become a hot topic in the media at the start of 2016. National media has been discussing the topic in their talk shows for the last few weeks. Some media outlets even invited panel members from India too.

All of sudden, why the constitutional status of Gilgit Baltistan has become an important topic of discussion while it was overlooked altogether  for the last 68 years. One would also wonder why Pakistan as federation seems to show interest, more than ever,  in resolving the issue. Reports also suggest that China, apparently has been pushing Pakistan to ease the resentments of the people of Gilgit Baltistan ahead of the CPEC implementation

A large percentage of the indigenous, but not well informed, people of Gilgit Baltistan seem to be under the mistaken impression that GB is being given its overdue constitutional rights on the special demand of China, and so the government of China is praised in this regard.

It is also necessary to ask the question what has prompted China to be so interested about the constitutional rights of the two million marginalized and disenfranchised people of GB -- after having remained silent for almost seven decades.

The sudden demand itself would appear not to be sympathy with GB, but rather a strategic demand to decorate the CPEC with legality and legitimacy. China is avoiding endorsement or repudiation of any position regarding the disputed nature of GB. On the other hand, the CM of GB and his cronies seem bent on doing nothing but give the “everything is okay” report to the Federal authority.

The federal government seems determined to sell out the strategically important mountainous region to China, imposing its unjustified policy on GB without considering the popular will of the long term deprived indigenous people there. Those who are still having the misguided and futile wish to have GB attain the status of becoming the 5th province of Pakistan should review the UNCIP and the claims of all external demand holders because in this phase any kind of unilateral decision may pose risk to peace and progress of the region as a whole. The alternative formula of division of GB which is being introduced by the commission is ironic and the tragic joke of the century.

The people of Gilgit Baltistan are  culturally, geographically, historically, and technically one unit. It is inconceivable that the people would tolerate any such process of disintegration to be successful. The nature of the status of GB remains as yet unresolved, and in fact cannot be resolved in any of the aforementioned ways presently being put forward, because its fate is required to be decided under an impartial world body with the alongwith the outstanding Kashmir issue as per the existing UN resolutions.

Over the past decades, the proposed referendum has continued to be an unfulfilled dream due to lack of flexibility in the foreign policies and the rigid approaches of the two occupying countries. As a result, the referendum is not likely to take place in foreseeable future as well. It is the need of the hour for the Gbians to play a positive role in setting a timeline to secure their land, resources and fundamental rights by an organized well delineated plan, with clearly described actions to give traction to the objectives. By having a common goal, instead of being fragmented and divided, the people of GB can work on innovative ideas for the sustainable, non violent and well planned change in the society.

The partisan, sectarian, regional and tribal divisions can be addressed using the approaches of integrative leadership. Instead of creating any harm to the peace loving people and escalating the dispute in the region, the best option in the current scenario is to declare the status of Gilgit Baltistan as a Protectorate. A Protectorate, as described by modern international law, is a dependent territory that has local autonomy and a certain level of independence while having specified reciprocal obligations with the controlling country. This would grant Gilgit Baltistan a measure of self determination, including the ability to set its own taxes and retain revenue, bring it to the table for the CPEC discourses, and keep it as a single unified state. It would have no negative impact on the Kashmir cause, as it would not incorporate GB into Pakistan.

It would also be a positive step toward preventing unnecessary aggression between the countries and the potential bloodshed such disputes tend to cause. The options regarding the status of Gilgit Baltistan that have been brought to the table so far seem to be inapplicable, unfavorable and even impossible.

Amendments to Articles 1, 51 and 58 in the Constitution of Pakistan is not only unlikely, but to make GB a 5th province would violate the UNCIP. Division of Gilgit Baltistan is unacceptable to the people of GB and the Kashmir cause would also be negatively impacted by such a move. By declaring GB a Protectorate, the rights of the GB people in self determination and their due participation in CPEC and other such projects, are secured. Equally as important, the Kashmir cause is not affected. It is the acceptable option for all the stakeholders and demand holders. Moreover, it ensures the chance for GBians to generate their own solutions for education, economics and empowerment for the marginalized population of the region. After nearly 70 years of uncertainty, Protectorate status would be a defining moment for Gilgit Baltistan.