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The importance of Gilgit-Baltistan, and why Pakistan has given it provisional province status

4th November, 2020 International News

Context: On November 1, observed every year in Gilgit-Baltistan as “Independence Day”, Pakistan Prime Minister announced that his government would give the region “provisional provincial status”.

When that happens, G-B will become the fifth province of Pakistan, although the region is claimed by India as part of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu & Kashmir as it existed in 1947 at its accession to India.


  • Gilgit-Baltistan is the northernmost territory administered by Pakistan, providing the country’s only territorial frontier, and thus a land route, with China, where it meets the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
  • The China Pakistan Economic Corridor has made the region vital for both countries.
  • To G-B’s west is Afghanistan, to its south is Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and to the east J&K.

What is the region’s current status?

  • Though Pakistan, like India, links G-B’s fate to that of Kashmir, its administrative arrangements are different from those in PoK.
  • While PoK has its own Constitution that sets out its powers and their limits vis-à-vis Pakistan, G-B has been ruled mostly by executive fiat.
  • Until 2009, the region was simply called Northern Areas.
  • It got its present name only with the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order, 2009, which replaced the Northern Areas Legislative Council with the Legislative Assembly.

Why the separate status?

  • On November 1 1947, after J&K ruler Hari Singh had signed the Instrument of Accession with India, and the Indian Army had landed in the Valley to drive out tribal invaders from Pakistan, there was a rebellion against Hari Singh in Gilgit.
  • Gilgit had been leased to the British by Hari Singh in 1935.
  • The British returned it in August 1947.
  • Pakistan did not accept G-B’s accession although it took administrative control of the territory.
  • After India went to the UN and a series of resolutions were passed in the Security Council on the situation in Kashmir, Pakistan believed that neither G-B nor PoK should be annexed to Pakistan, as this could undermine the international case for a plebiscite in Kashmir.
  • It also reckons that in the event a plebiscite ever takes place in Kashmir, votes in G-B will be important too.

Is granting this status a step towards Pakistan accepting the LoC status quo?

  • While India has objected to the plan to make G-B a province of Pakistan and in the recent past asserted that it will take control of G-B, there is a realisation that it is impossible to change the map now.
  • In this sense, it can argued that the merger of G-B with Pakistan is a move that could help both countries put the past behind and move forward on the Kashmir issue, sometime in the future.

What do the people in G-B want?

  • The people of G-B have been demanding for years that it be made a part of Pakistan, they do not have the same constitutional rights Pakistanis have.
  • There is virtually no connect with India.
  • Some have in the past demanded a merger with PoK, but the people of G-B have no real connect with Kashmir either. They belong to several non-Kashmiri ethnicities, and speak various languages, none of these Kashmiri.
  • A majority of the estimated 1.5 million G-B residents are Shias.
  • There is anger against Pakistan for unleashing extremist sectarian militant groups that target Shias, and for dictating over the use of their natural resources, but the predominant sentiment is that all this will improve once they are part of the Pakistani federation.
  • There is a small movement for independence, but it has very little traction.