#Pakistan’s #Gilgit-#Baltistan status promote likely to sour ties with #India
NEW DELHI: Even as Islamabad is trying hard to salvage the January 15-16 foreign secretary-level talks with New Delhi, its decision to upgrade the constitutional status of the Gilgit-Baltistan region under Pakistan Occupied Kashmir has ticked off India and may snowball into an acrimonious issue, as the move will expand the presence of Chinese in the area.
Islamabad’s latest move is aimed at facilitating the $46 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passing through Gilgit Baltistan. Last year, the very announcement of CPEC irked India as it would pass through what India considers as its own territory and is occupied illegally by Pakistan. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in June last year had termed the CPEC project “unacceptable” since it is passing through Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir.
Delhi had also served demarche to the stakeholders on CPEC. “Entire state of Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India and this position is well known,” a senior official told ET. Upgrading the status of Gilgit-Baltistan would further facilitate expansion of Chinese presence, including infrastructure and troops, in the region, sources here said. It is feared that higher number of Chinese troops in the area is aimed at making Pakistan’s position strong in any Indo-Pak negotiations over Kashmir. Upgrading the status would give the government in Islamabad a greater say in the administration of Gilgit Baltistan than it currently enjoys.
India had termed the June 8, 2015 election in Gilgit and Baltistan “under the so-called ‘Gilgit Baltistan Empowerment and Self Government Order’ as an attempt by Pakistan to camouflage its forcible and illegal occupation of the regions”.
CPEC plans to link China’s Kashgar city in Xinjiang province to the Pakistani port of Gwadar. In the Gilgit Baltistan segment, the project design will include a major expansion of the Karakoram Highway, establishing industrial parks in special economic zones, construction of hydropower projects as well as railway line and road building. The project also involves building hydropower projects and motorways and highways in what Pakistan calls Azad Jammu and Kashmir under PoK. Even before the CPEC was announced last year China had invested in infrastructure projects and positioned troops in PoK drawing ire of India.
PoK is divided into what is called ‘Azad Kashmir’ and Gilgit-Baltistan. Both regions have their own legislative assemblies and, technically, are not part of the Pakistan federation. Pakistan administers them through a special minister for Kashmir and joint councils. Some local leaders of Gilgit Baltistan have protested the move to upgrade the status.(EcnomicTimes)