India ratcheting up claims over PoK and Gilgit-Baltistan not without basis

May 19, 2020 3:20 PM

The “Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order of 2009” established an electoral framework and elections have been held in the region that provides for limited autonomy.

Gilgit-Baltistan, PoK, Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan Supreme Court , Pakistan Army, NEA,  Ladakh, latest news on gilgit balistan The Shangri-La lake in Skardu. The beautiful region has a regional government in name, but is controlled entirely by Islamabad. (Bilal Javed Awan via Wikipedia)

By BRIG N K BHATIA

Last few weeks has seen increased Indian attention on issues relating to Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan. Gilgit Baltistan, in particular, has seen renewed interest due to the two significant developments that directly impact Indian interests. Gilgit-Baltistan was part of the formerly princely state of Jammu and Kashmir. However, Pakistan considers Gilgit-Baltistan as separate from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir on the plea that it had risen in revolt against the Maharaja much before the kabalis had invaded the province. But as per historical records, it is known that British army officers seconded to the local rajas of Gilgit-Baltistan had engineered a revolt so that it did not become a part of India. But that’s another story. In 1970, it was amalgamated as a single administrative unit by combining Gilgit Agency, the Baltistan District of the Ladakh-Wazarat, and the states of Hunza and Nagar and rechristened as Northern Areas under the administrative control of Pakistan’s Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas.

The “Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order of 2009” established an electoral framework and elections have been held in the region that provides for limited autonomy.

Pakistan government passed a Presidential proclamation on 16 May 2020 to conduct elections in Gilgit-Baltistan on 24 June 2020 following a Pakistan Supreme Court order to hold elections.

India had protested through issue of a ‘demarche’ in early May 2020 against Pakistan Supreme Court Order to hold elections in Gilgit-Baltistan as it considers complete Jammu and Kashmir including Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir as an integral part of India.

Government of India’s position in the matter is reflected in the resolution passed by the Parliament in 1994 by consensus.

In the other significant development in the region Pakistan concluded an agreement between China Power and Pakistan Army’s Frontier Works Organisation for the construction of US $ 8.1 Billion Diamer Basha Dam in Gilgit-Baltistan region in a ratio of 70:30. DaimarBasha is only 1 of the 5 proposed dams planned as the Northern ( Indus) Cascade. The 5 dams together reportedly have the potential for 22000 MW of energy.

The significance of the construction of Diamer-Basha Dam is worrisome from two aspects. One, its location is in a region claimed by India and another is the increased Chinese hold over Pakistan and the region allowing it to expand its footprints. The dam project had so far not seen any progress due to expert opinion from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank which had advised Pakistan to go in for smaller dams due to adverse environmental impact of large dams, its location in a fragile seismic zone and inability to fund the project.

As per known inputs China’s National Energy Administration ( NEA) would oversee funding of the project. It is Three Gorges Corporation that runs the world’s largest hydroelectric project at the Three Gorges Dam in China will be the lead contractor to build all 5 dams. Daimar- Basha would be the first project. China is likely to deploy 13000 Chinese workers on the project although Pakistan claims that the project would employ 16500 Pakistani’s.

The Chinese economic stake is in addition to its pledge to invest over 50 billion USD for the Pak- China CPEC that is a vital link for President Xi’s ambitious BRI project on which he has staked his reputation since coming to power in 2013.

The increase in Chinese activities and construction of the dam would definitely result in enhanced presence of Chinese military personnel having wide security implications on the region. This will surely add to tensions in the region.

Certain other interesting development have taken place, some symbolic in nature but nevertheless significant, which need some measure of attention. Google in India has removed the lines denoting the LOC & LAC from its maps of J&K although international versions of Google maps continue to show these Lines. There have been no official statements regarding this from Google. Similarly, the inclusion of regions of POK and Gilgit-Baltistan in weather bulletins of Indian Metrological Department is meant to keep Indian claims over the region alive.

India’s changed approach and resolve to assert claims over complete Jammu and Kashmir stemmed after the abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution.

In follow up action post-August 5 developments India did well to justify its stand globally. The changed approach towards Pak Occupied parts of J&K was clearly spelt out by our External Affairs Minister, Dr S Jaishanker, while speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on 03 Oct 2019. “…….my claims are on my maps. My maps have been there for over 70 years……if you don’t have physical possession today, then one day you will. It’s as simple as that.”

After sudden escalations in violence in J & K, India has responded to the developments through a series of measures. The timing is just right for India to pursue its claims in POK by sensitising our own public on our claims and drawing international attention to increasing Pak China nexus in the region.

(The author is an Indian Army Veteran. Views expressed are personal.)

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