Last week, Pakistan’s Supreme Court held a hearing on a civil miscellaneous application (CMA), submitted by the country’s federal government ‘respectfully praying’ before the court to allow it to carry out “necessary amendments” in the 2018 Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) Order for the caretaker government to “conduct elections for Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly”. After hearing out the government’s case, in a short order, the seven-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, gave its nod.
It would be pertinent to mention, that Pakistan Supreme Court had, earlier, in January 2019, extended its jurisdiction to Gilgit-Baltistan and restored an order, which was set aside by GB Supreme Appellate Court. Simultaneously, recognising the weaknesses of the 2018 Order, it had asked the government to prepare an amended draft order based on the Sartaj Committee recommendations. Set up by the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government, the Committee had recommended legislative measures to accommodate local aspirations.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) demarched a senior Pakistan diplomat and lodged a strong protest against the order on the so-called “Gilgit-Baltistan” and clearly conveyed “that the entire Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, including the areas of Gilgit and Baltistan, are an integral part of India by virtue of its fully legal and irrevocable accession.” It emphasised that the “Government of Pakistan or its judiciary has no locus standi on territories illegally and forcibly occupied by it” and India completely rejected “such actions and continued attempts to bring material changes in Pakistan occupied areas of the Indian territory of Jammu & Kashmir”.
Last year, India had also summoned the then Deputy High Commissioner of Pakistan and lodged a strong protest on the “order by Supreme Court of Pakistan [of 7 Jan 2019] on the so-called “Gilgit-Baltistan” and held it as “an interference in India’s internal affairs”. Similar sentiments were expressed just before the elections in GB on 8 June 2015, which was also projected as “an attempt by Pakistan to camouflage its forcible and illegal occupation” and particular concern was expressed about “continued efforts by Pakistan to deny the people of the region their political rights, and the efforts being made to absorb these territories.”
Thus, India has consistently maintained that the territories under Pakistan’s illegal occupation need to be vacated. New Delhi has always denounced Pakistan’s policy of absorbing occupied territories of Jammu and Kashmir through administrative, political and judicial measures.
Pakistan has continually ignored Indian reactions and gone ahead with its plans of
strengthening its illegal hold on the occupied terraind disregarding its commitment not to bring about any material change therein.
India’s decision to revoke Article 370 and reorganise the former state of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories has pulled the rug from under the feet of Pakistan’s powerful elite, especially its military leadership, who have used the Kashmir issue to instill a sense of insecurity in the minds of Pakistanis and strengthened their position as saviours. Pakistan’s ceasefire violations along the LoC, increase in infiltration into Kashmir and rise in militancy show that Islamabad is desperately intensifying its efforts to destabilise the region and draw international attention towards Kashmir.
At the political level, it has refreshed is approach to the occupied territories– the so called “Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK)” and GB. The “interim” Constitution of AJK has been revised to enhance Pakistani control. Attempt is also being made to consolidate control over GB, an area of immense strategic value.
Further, cosmetic constitutional changes are being made to ensure that local disaffections are managed well to allow Pakistan to exploit the region to its advantage. Short of absorbing it as the fifth province, Pakistan is hell-bent on retaining its absolute control while maintaining a façade of local autonomy.
The popular demands from Gilgit-Baltistan is something that Pakistan has all along ignored. People there need education, jobs, health services and a better life, like their brethren in the Indian UT of Jammu & Kashmir. India needs to stay alert and evolve ways to thwart Pakistani machinations in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK).
Script: Dr. ASHOK BEHURIA, Coordinator, South Asia Centre,
Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA).