Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who is in Kashmir, said that the government’s northward journey will be complete after reaching Gilgit-Baltistan. The region in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir is part of the Indian territory and New Delhi has been demanding that the neighbouring nation vacate it. Gilgit-Baltistan is the northernmost tip of Kashmir and covers part of Ladakh. In 1994, India passed a resolution in Parliament that demanded Pakistan vacate its illegally occupied territories in the region

In a message to Pakistan, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh hinted at taking back remaining parts of PoK, Gilgit and Baltistan

There is nothing that divides India and Pakistan like Kashmir. Now Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has said that the government has started its development journey in the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh and its northward journey will be complete after reaching “the remaining parts (of Pakistan occupied Kashmir), Gilgit and Baltistan”. He said this would “implement the resolution passed unanimously by India’s Parliament” on 22 February 1994 while speaking at the Shaurya Diwas celebrations on the outskirts of Srinagar.

What Is Gilgit-Baltistan?

Parts of Kashmir have been illegally occupied by Pakistan since 1947. Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) comprises two different regions – one which the neighbouring nation calls ‘Azad Jammu and Kashmir’ (AJK) and the other is Gilgit-Baltistan (GB).

GB is the northernmost tip of Kashmir and covers part of Ladakh. It provides a land route with China, meeting Xinjiang Autonomous Region. To its south is the other part of PoK; to the east is Jammu and Kashmir and Afghanistan is to its west. The GB region makes up 86 per cent of PoK.

How Did Pakistan Occupy The Region?

Gilgit was part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir and in 1935, Hari Singh, the ruler of the state, leased it to the British. After Independence, they decided to return Gilgit to the maharaja.

Hari Singh was unsure of acceding the state to either India or Pakistan but that changed after Pakistan forces invaded the Valley on 22 October 1947. Four days later, on 26 October, the ruler signed the Instrument of Accession with India and the Indian Army landed in Kashmir to take on the invaders.

Soon after British officer Major WA Brown, who was loaned to the ruler by the British to defend Gilgit-Baltistan, illegally “offered” the region to Pakistan. Pakistani forces occupied it on 4 November 1947 and since then, Gilgit-Baltistan has been under its control.

Pakistan named the region, Gilgit Wazarat and Gilgit Agency, as The Northern Areas of Pakistan and it is directly administered by the country’s government.

What is the 1994 resolution passed by India?

The resolution on PoK underlined the Indian government’s consistent and principled position and was adopted unanimously by both Houses of Parliament on 22 February 1994. The resolution states that “the entire Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh have been, are and shall be an integral part of India”. It demanded Pakistan vacate its illegally occupied territories in the region.

On 4 April 2018, the United Kingdom Parliament said that Gilgit-Baltistan belongs to India as an integral part of Jammu and Kashmir after it legally acceded to the Union in 1947. The motion reads, “Gilgit-Baltistan is a legal and constitutional part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, India, which is illegally occupied by Pakistan since 1947, and where people are denied their fundamental rights including the right of freedom of expression.”

In November 2019, when a new map of India showed the area as part of the newly created Union Territory of Ladakh, both Pakistan and China objected to it.

What’s the status of the region now?

In 2009, Pakistan passed the Gilgit-Baltistan (Empowerment and Self-Governance) Order, granting the region a Legislative Assembly and chief minister. A governor would be appointed by the president. Until then the region was called Northern Areas and ruled by the executive.

However, in 2018 then-Pakistan Muslim League (N) government passed an order to limit the powers of the Assembly. This was done so that it would have greater control of the region and other resources for the infrastructure projects being planned under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), according to a report in The Indian Express.

In 2019, the Pakistan Supreme Court repealed the order, instructing the Imran Khan-led government to bring in governance reforms. However, this was not done. The top court appointed a caretaker government until the next Legislative Assembly elections. In November 2020, Imran Khan said that the region would be given a “provisional provincial status”. But this also has not happened yet, the report says.

What do the locals want?

After the announcement of making the region the fifth province of Pakistan, local leaders were divided. Some have demanded more autonomy while others have demanded a merger with the country as a full-fledged province.

In November 2020, Nawaz Khan Naji, who was a member of GB’s Legislative Assembly for nine years, told The Times of India, “It is not only in Pakistan’s interest but GB’s to give the region more autonomy instead of making it a province.”

A majority of the 1.5 million residents of the region are Shias. There is anger against the Pakistani government for doing little to check sectarian violence against the Shias and the exploitation of resources. But many people believe that once the region becomes part of the Pakistan federation, their situation will improve, reports The Indian Express.

Why is Gilgit-Baltistan important to India?

India has always maintained that this region belongs to it. However, its strategic importance has only increased with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a collection of infrastructure projects in the Muslim-majority nation. As part of its Belt and Road Initiative, Beijing has put a huge investment in the area. With tensions between India and China in Eastern Ladakh, New Delhi is worried about a two-front conflict.

India has been emphasising taking control of the region. On 11 March 2020, the government said, “consistent and principled position, as also enunciated in the Parliament resolution adopted unanimously by both Houses on 22 February 1994, is that the entire Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh have been, are and shall be an integral part of India”.

It said that the government “monitors all developments taking place in the territories of India including in territories that are under the illegal and forcible occupation of Pakistan”.

On Thursday, Rajnath Singh reiterated the stand as he accused Pakistan of committing atrocities against the people in PoK.

“We have just begun our development journey in Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh. This mission will be completed only when we reach the remaining parts such as Gilgit and Baltistan in line with Parliament’s resolution (of 1994 that demanded Pakistan vacate the occupied territories),” Singh said.

He said the aim of full integration started by Syama Prasad Mookerjee reached its conclusion on August 5, 2019, “when Article 370 was abolished under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi”.