MUZAFFARABAD: The Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) government has decided to “put up strong resistance” against alleged moves by Islamabad to convert Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) into a province before a settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.
The government was also contemplating expressing its “indignation” at the alleged plans through a resolution in the next session of the Legislative Assembly, apart from creating awareness through different means among the public on its repercussions, ruling People’s Party leaders said on Saturday.
“Constitutionally and legally, the territory of Gilgit-Baltistan is part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and any attempt to secede it from the disputed region will deal a blow to the stand of Pakistan and Kashmiris regarding the longstanding dispute,” said Sardar Abid Hussain Abid, AJK Minister for Information, while talking to Dawn.
“It’s not only the government in Muzaffarabad, but all those who espouse a plebiscite in the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir will resist such a move,” he added.
The AJK minister maintained that GB was part of Jammu and Kashmir “not by our claims” but by historic facts and any attempt to change that position before resolution of the Kashmir issue would be tantamount to forsaking stance on the Himalayan region forever.
“Any prudent and visionary person cannot take this step which I believe in all fairness and honesty is bound to harm the Kashmir issue beyond retrieve.”
The strong reaction by the AJK government came in the wake of media reports that Pakistan was mulling elevating status of GB on Chinese insistence.
Mr Abid said the alleged Chinese insistence was a ‘lame excuse’.
“China is making investment worth billions in our territory which too is not part of the federation of Pakistan… Therefore this logic does not hold ground,” he said.
He pointed out that the GB and AJK practically enjoyed the status of de facto provinces of Pakistan, but if the same status was given official approval, it could cause more damage than the perceived benefits.
“… Even if there are some momentary benefits, for Pakistan, the losses in the long run are far greater.”
The minister, however, expressed optimism that the quarters enjoying the mandate to take such a decision, such as foreign and Kashmir affairs ministries, could hardly resort to this step.
“Nevertheless, if some people want to do it, they should firstly issue a declaration that the Kashmir issue stands closed from today and Pakistan doesn’t have any interest in its resolution,” he said.
Mr Abid also made it clear that opposition to giving status of a province to GB should never mean opposition to more autonomy and constitutional rights for the GB people.
“We have a better status than GB but even we are not satisfied with it and have unanimously passed recommendations for constitutional reforms. And in the same spirit, we support more constitutional powers for our brethren in Gilgit- Baltistan… Even more than us,” he added.
“But the federal government should avoid annexing the territory as a province, lest India may use it a justification to annex the territories of Jammu and Kashmir under its control,” he warned.
Separately, Shaukat Javed Mir, one of the media advisers to the People’s Party, said it were the governments of his party in Pakistan that had granted constitutional and legal rights and liberties to the GB people.
“They are our brethren and we are not antipathetic to their greater autonomy, but we cannot condone any move that would waste the blood of thousands of Kashmiri martyrs for freedom of the held territory and its accession to Pakistan,” he said.
Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2016