Gilgit-Baltistan Should Be Given Full-Fledged Provincial Status
The Karakoram is the edge of the world. It is the second-highest mountain range in the world and one of the world’s most geologically active areas. It was here that, millions of years ago, the Indian Plate and Eurasian Plate collided, resulting in the formation of the massive mountain range.
Gently flowing rivers through Gilgit-Baltistan add to the beatific landscape of the region, flanked by magnificent mountain ranges, including the Karakoram and the Himalayas, which are separated by the Gilgit, Indus and Shyok rivers.
Glaciers cover more than 15,000 square kilometers of the Karakoram mountain range, which comes to between 28 and 50 percent of its surface. The Siachen glacier, at 76 kilometers (47 mi), and the Biafo Glacier, at 63 kilometers (39 mi), rank as the world’s second and third longest glaciers outside the polar regions respectively.
This mountain range begins in the Wakhan Corridor in the west and encompasses the majority of Gilgit Baltistan and extends into Ladakh and Aksai Chin in China.
Gilgit-Baltistan is the northernmost region of Pakistan and is blessed with abundant natural beauty – in Balti language, it is exceedingly “gashay”. It borders Azad Kashmir in the south, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the west, the famous Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan in the north, the Xinjiang region of China in the east and northeast, and Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh to the southeast. Gilgit and Skardu in GB territory are two of the three towns that have the highest concentration of population in the Karakoram region, with the third one being Leh in the Ladakh region, besides small villages perched on the mountains’ slopes.
Before 1935, Gilgit-Baltistan was part of the pre-partition princely state of Jammu & Kashmir. Thereafter it was given by Maharaja Hari Singh to the British for 60 years on lease, which terminated prematurely with the partition of India in 1947 when it effectively went back to the maharaja. When the princely states were asked to choose to accede to one of India or Pakistan, the Kashmiri maharaja signed the controversial instrument of accession with India on 26 October, 1947.
This caused widespread anger among the predominantly Muslim population of Gilgit region, leading to a revolt by local paramilitary forces five days later, and their subsequent declaration of acceding to Pakistan.
In the beginning, Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir, known as Azad Jammu Kashmir (AJK), became a single territorial unit. Later, according to the Karachi agreement of 1949 between Pakistan and AJK government, GB was given a distinct identity from AJK and came under the federal government’s administration.
It became a separate administrative unit in 1970, under the name of Northern Areas. It was awarded limited autonomy in 2009, and came to be officially named Gilgit-Baltistan.
This land of snowy solitude should be provided paramount constitutional cover as a full province of the country according to the constitution. So far, it is entirely dependent on Islamabad for all its financial and development activities, as well as matters of defense, economy and foreign policy. It does not have a representative government yet and has been running on reforms by the federal government since 1970.
Recently, the legislative assembly has adopted a unanimous resolution demanding the federal government to declare GB as a constitutional province of Pakistan. It is time their sacrifices to secure independence from Indian hegemony and their willingness to join Pakistan be acknowledged ad appreciated. It is high time this marvelous region is granted a status similar to the country’s other four provinces, and the Balti people are enabled to have representation in the government of Pakistan.
The Supreme Court has also demanded of the federal government to grant fundamental rights to the people of GB and to expedite this matter. Let us hope, the people of this “gashay” region may find the right to represent themselves that they deserve.