Pakistan’s move in Gilgit- Baltistan will heighten Indo-Pak tensions in the region, say experts

By: |
November 4, 2020 12:40 PM

“The grant of provisional status would definitely exacerbate Indo-Pakistan tensions in the region that is already simmering due to the Indo-China stand-off,” says an Indian Army Veteran Brig NK Bhatia.

Located at the far north, it is at the intersection between the Himalaya, Karakorum and Hindu Kush mountain ranges. (Representational image)

The announcement of grant of status of “provisional provincial status” to Gilgit-Baltistan is follow up of an earlier statement by a Pakistani federal minister to grant the contentious status to a disputed territory claimed by India.

“The grant of provisional status would definitely exacerbate Indo-Pakistan tensions in the region that is already simmering due to the Indo-China stand-off,” says an Indian Army Veteran Brig NK Bhatia.

What does India say?

India in a strongly worded statement has slammed Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s announcement to convert Pakistan occupied Kashmir’s (PoK) Gilgit- Baltistan as the 5th province of the country.

According to the official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs MEA), Anurag Srivastava said, “Pakistan has no locus standi on territories illegally and forcibly occupied by it.”

Attempts by neighbouring Pakistan to “material changes” to a “part of Indian territory, which is under its illegal and forcible occupation”, has been strongly rejected by India. “By the virtue of the legal, complete and irrevocable accession” of Jammu and Kashmir to the Union of India in 1947, the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh are an “integral part of India,” said Anurag Srivastava.

Importance of Gilgit-Baltistan

It is strategically located and is bordering Afghanistan and China. It is home to an estimated population of two million people. Located at the far north, it is at the intersection between the Himalaya, Karakorum and Hindu Kush mountain ranges.

This region is also home to some of the highest mountain peaks in the world — K2 which is considered to be the world’s second-highest mountain.

It is also a part of the $60bn China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The major overland crossing is at Kashgar, in the north of the territory.

Elections are due in this region later this month for the legislative assembly, though the region is governed by the Federal government in Islamabad.

It will be interesting to watch if China will go to the United Nations on the Pakistan announcement. It may be recalled China had gone to the UN after India had withdrawn the special status for the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir.

As of today, there are four provinces in Pakistan. These include: Punjab which is the most populated; Balochistan which is resource-rich; Southern Sindh; and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which is bordering Afghanistan.

Experts’ Views

Sharing his views with Financial Express Online, Brig Bhatia says, “The contiguous boundary of Gilgit-Baltistan with China and its prominence in the execution of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and other multiple Chinese aided dam projects is a cause of concern for peace and stability in the region with India having repeatedly pointed to the disputed status of the region.”

Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan game plan: Playing out the Chinese script

“The move to alter the status of the region has also not gone well, both within Pakistan as well as Gilgit-Baltistan. Most locals point to the loss of their identity due to the entry of mainstream Pakistanis into their interior lands. The upcoming elections on November 16, 2020, have raised the stakes for main political parties of Pakistan who are engrossed in making entry into the region at a cost of local groups operating under the umbrella of Gilgit-Baltistan Democratic Alliance (GBDA) and comprising indigenous and fringe groups of Gilgit-Baltistan,” Brig Bhatia observes.

According to Brig Bhatia, “Beyond the Pakistani move to provide the “provisional status of a province” to the region is due to the prodding of China to fix the legal status of Gilgit-Baltistan to absolve it from risks of operating in a disputed territory and of its consequences thereof.

The move also showcases the perception of Pakistani ruling establishment in treating the regions of Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir as different whereas there has always been the demand to treat as a single unit that has been illegally occupied by it since partition of India and Pakistan.”

According to another Indian Army veteran, Col JP Singh, “ Almost 7000 sq km Shaksgam Valley of Baltistan, North of Karakoram, was given by Pakistan to China in 1963. China has many sinister designs in mineral & water-rich Gilgit-Baltistan. More than an army Division of PLA is already deployed there since long for the security of CPEC manpower. It has been reinforced after the Galwan incident. Both Pakistan and Chinese fighter aircraft have been positioned at Skardu Airfield to ward off an Indian attack.” Repeating history is becoming obvious. During the cold war, there were two superpowers. USSR entered Afghanistan in 1979 to enter warm waters of Arabian Sea. America got an opportunity. It used Pakistan and within 10 years demolished USSR and became an exclusive superpower. China is doing the same through Gilgit-Baltistan & Pakistan and Wuhan Virus. Both India and the US are on the same page to scuttle Chinese malicious dreams. That is doable by blocking China in the Himalayas and Indo-Pacific. That can be easily done by Indo-US strategic partnership for Naval dominance of international waters and Indian military action in the Himalayas.” Col Singh opines.

According to him, “China has never fought an all-out war whereas India has a history of wars and conquests after its independence. Indian Army is a professional army whereas the majority of the PLA is conscript. India knows that defeat of China in the Himalayas is near certain, still it has been exercising restraint to wage a war. China also knows that any misadventure in the Himalayas will be a reverse of 1962 walkover. That is why the standoff. And should an opportunity surface, India should link up with Central Asian Republics.”

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