Don’t burn your fingers in Gilgit and Baltistan

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By Dr. Syed Nazir Gilani

There is a burning smell in the air that present PTI Government in Pakistan has plans to embrace Gilgit and Baltistan as a fifth province or as a ‘provisional fifth province’ of Pakistan. The reasons advanced are that people here have been left behind in the enjoyment of their rights and in enjoying the progress made in various disciplines of life in Pakistan.

There are retired people from Azad Kashmir and their likes from GB who have been doing stealth exercises behind the backs of their own people and are encouraging various circles in Islamabad that it is ideal to bring GB into the territorial fold of Pakistan.They are suggesting that it could be done by amending article 257 of the Constitution of Pakistan.

People in all the three parts of Jammu and Kashmir and in the Diaspora are disturbed. PPP Azad Kashmir, Muslim Conference Azad Kashmir, JKLF, JKCHR, Kashmiri scholars and some other activists have expressed their deep concern and have advised the Government to suspend its plans and respect the integrity of the State. The action would bring Pakistan at par with Indian actions of 5 August 2019, would be a violation of UN Resolutions on the future of the State, would be a departure from Pakistan’s stand on Kashmir and above all would be considered as a betrayal by the people who have sacrificed a generation of their loved ones. Pakistan would lose trust of the people of the State and there would be unfolding challenges in the courts, at the UN and it would dislodge the Pakistani constituency in Kashmir.

The immediate domestic challenge would be under the April 1949 Karachi Agreement. The challenge would enlarge and people would invoke protection under UN Security Council Resolutions at various forums. It would be a recipe for disaster. India would surreptitiously creep in to pitch the people of Jammu and Kashmir against Pakistan, here and abroad. Even if India does not fish in the troubled waters, it would exact a quid pro quo. The people of Jammu and Kashmir would not allow the integrity of the State to be violated in this manner.

The argument that the people of GB are left behind and the process would lift them, has no merit. Why did AJK and Pakistan Governments leave them behind from April 1949, when Government of Pakistan entered into an agreement with the Government of Azad Kashmir and took over the administration of these areas? Azad Kashmir and Pakistan are bound to provide a good governance as a responsibility assumed under UNCIP Resolutions. In the absence of Pakistan’s overseeing the Governments in Azad Kashmir and GB, the UN Commission would have supervised the two administrations. Under UN Commission’s surveillance these areas would have developed as Switzerland during the last 71 years.

It would be an admission by Pakistan that it has failed to discharge its duties assumed under UNCIP Resolutions in AJK and GB. It is a dereliction of duty and Pakistan could be flagged at the UN and at other forums for failing to honour its duties. Human Rights and progress in GB should have remained concurrent to the corresponding progress made in AJK and Pakistan. If we have failed, we have accrued a criminal liability. We would be confirming the Emma Nicholson’s report adopted by the European Parliament in April 2007 that these areas have been treated like a colony.

There is an argument that elders of the area have acceded to Pakistan and this view is pushed through by a half-baked legal opinion of a retired judge from Azad Kashmir. If that were true Government of Azad Kashmir would not have made an agreement with the Government of Pakistan in April 1949, to temporarily take over the administrative control of GB. The agreement is in place and AJK continues to have a de jure right to question about the conditions in GB. Azad Kashmir High Court has also ruled on the transfer of GB into the administration of Azad Kashmir. Supreme Court of Azad Kashmir has offered a relief against the transfer at this point. The argument relied upon is like a bull in a China shop.

United Nations Resolutions are very clear on GB as a part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. To understand the title of the GB one need not research any hard but make a reference to Lease of Gilgit – an agreement signed between the Maharaja of Jammu Kashmir and the British Crown on 26 March 1935 under which The Viceroy and Governor General of India “assumed the Civil and Military administration of so much of the Wazarat of Gilgit Province of the State of Jammu and Kashmir…but not withstanding anything in this agreement the said territory shall continue to be included within the dominions of His Highness the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir”. The agreement was for sixty years and comprises of five articles. And if we have a faith that we shall be able to exact a UN supervised referendum, GB is an important vote bank.

The collapse of Kashmir policy started from November 1965. It began to gather strength in late 1990s. In August 1996 JKCHR lodged an eight page protest with the President of Pakistan and questioned the merits of his Kashmir policy. Unfortunately, he introduced his 4-points and coerced Hurriet to leave their constitutional discipline and board his wagon to sell the 4-point formula. President Musharraf skipped self-determination from his speech made at the 61st session of UN GA in September 2006 and Pakistan again skipped self-determination at the 62nd session of UN GA in October 2007. President Musharraf told NDTV in December 2006 that “Pakistan is also ready to give up its old demand for a plebiscite in Kashmir and will also forget all the UN resolutions under the 4-point solution”. Musharraf formula is history but we have decided to burn our fingers in Gilgit and Baltistan.

(The author is President of London based Jammu and Kashmir Council for Human Rights – NGO in Special Consultative Status with the United Nations.)