Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, Abdul Basit, may have reassured the Kashmiri leadership in New Delhi that Pakistan would not take any steps “detrimental to the Kashmir’s struggle” but the debate about Pakistan’s proposal to merge Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) as country’s fifth province refuses to die down in Indian-held Kashmir.

Some prominent Kashmiri politicians have accused Pakistan of being “inconsistent” and have voiced concern over its “wavering” stand on Kashmir dispute.

Many in India-held Kashmir see merit in the concern voiced by Kashmir’s ‘pro-Azaadi’ (pro-freedom) lobby while some describe it as “empty rhetoric” and a “romantic view”.

Spokesperson of Kashmir’s octogenarian resistance leader Syed Ali Geelani said in a statement that Abdul Basit called on Geelani at his Malviya Nagar residence in Delhi on February 9.

As Geelani expressed his reservation on Pakistan’s proposal on GB, the Pakistani High Commissioner reportedly assured him that “Pakistan won’t take any step which will be against the Kashmir movement”.

Earlier, Kashmir’s two prominent resistance leaders dispatched letters to the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, warning him against granting approval to a proposal to merge Gilgit-Baltistan as Pakistan’s fifth province.

Last month, chairman of ‘Tehreek-i-Hurriyat’ Syed Ali Geelani wrote a letter to Nawaz Sharif, saying that any move to merge GB with Pakistan will prove a “disaster for the disputed nature of Jammu and Kashmir”.

According to Geelani, this act will “impact the disputed status of the region”.

The Hurriyat chairman advised Pakistan to address the “genuine grievances, if any” of the people of GB by “restoring their trust”, but maintained that the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir, including Azad Kashmir and GB, remained a “disputed territory” according to the resolutions passed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

“India by holding elections and forming an assembly in 1957 unilaterally tried to change the status of one part of the state but by adopting the resolution Number 122, the UNSC rejected the constitutional and legal status of this move," Geelani wrote on January 27.

“My health is not keeping well since last few days and the doctors have advised me complete rest, but I am writing these few lines while on bed because the reports about GB have made me uneasy and forced me to pick up the pen”.

"Will only help India"

Before Geelani, another prominent resistance leader Yasin Malik expressed a similar sentiment in his letter addressed to the Nawaz Sharif on the same issue.

Malik, chief of pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF), in his letter said that merging GB with Pakistan “will only help India to consolidate its writ on Kashmir”.

“Apprehensions have been raised in various quarters that your government may reach a consensus to merge GB with Pakistan. This will have implications on the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir. If Pakistan imposes its sovereign writ over GB, India will then have a political and moral right to integrate Kashmir with it. With one stroke, Pakistan will be helping India to consolidate its writ on Kashmir,” Malik wrote in his letter dated January 12.

The reactions from Indian-held Kashmir on the GB issue and the two letters written by Malik and Geelani are mixed.

Even pro-India politicians from the Kashmir valley articulate that by merging GB with Pakistan the country would only be “causing damage” to its own position that it has taken on Kashmir since the last seven decades or so.

Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami, member of the Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly, and leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said that the proposed move was in contradiction to the official position taken by Pakistan on Kashmir in the United Nations and elsewhere.

“Wouldn’t it be a contradictory to Pakistan’s own official position?” Tarigami questioned.

Naeem Akhtar, senior leader of the pro-India Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and chief spokesperson of the previous government, said that his party considered the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir as a “single entity”.

“Obviously, we treat the entirety Jammu and Kashmir as one entity,” Akhtar told Dawn.

But political scientists and key Kashmir watchers, such as Prof. Gull Mohammad Wani believe that for a conflict resolution, the size of the problem ought to be reduced.

Dr. Gull Wani, Director of UNESCO's Madanjeet Singh Institute of Kashmir Studies at University of Kashmir, told Dawn that visualising Jammu and Kashmir as one entity 68 years after Partition was only a “romantic view”, not “political realism”.

“As many as 68 years after the division of sub-continent and creation of two nation states [India and Pakistan] with belligerent approach, it is a romantic view to look at the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir under the Maharaja rule as a single entity,” Wani said.

“The political aspirations of the people of GB, Ladakh and Jammu are not the same as of the people in the Kashmir valley. Political realism demands that the size of the problem ought to be reduced to find a solution of the conflict in view of the new geo-political realities that have emerged since,” he added.

There are others who lend support to the stand taken by Geelani and Malik on the issue of GB.

Pakistan's fifth province

Bashir Manzar, Editor-in-chief of Srinagar based English daily Kashmir Images, asserts that the concern expressed by Kashmir’s pro-‘Azaadi’ (pro-freedom) lobby “is rather late, but very genuine”.

“If Pakistan makes GB its fifth province as per apprehensions expressed by several quarters, the ‘Azaadi’ movement in Kashmir is bound to lose its steam,” Manzar told Dawn.

“The separatist leadership in Kashmir has already wasted a lot of time by not raising concerns on this vital issue. But ‘dair aayad durst aayad’ (it is better late than never),” he said.

Professor Siddiq Wahid Radhu, former Vice Chancellor of Kashmir’s Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST), also favours the move by Geelani and Malik to write letters to the Pakistani Prime Minister and insists that the duo should also contemplate shooting letters to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well.

“It is my fear that New Delhi and Islamabad may have a prior understanding on the future of GB. It appears as a fixed match,” Wahid told Dawn.

Unsurprisingly, the voices from Jammu province are starkly different from the Muslim-dominated Kashmir valley. Some believe that the ideological positions taken by Kashmir based leaders may not be convenient for Pakistan at all times.

“Politics of exclusion”

Zafar Choudhary, commentator and a political analyst based in Jammu, has a rather interesting take, as he believes that the reactions from Kashmir’s ‘pro-Azaadi’ lobby are “empty rhetoric” and showcase “politics of exclusion”.

“Gilgit-Baltistan is an area with an estimated population of 2 million. The Hurriyat leaders have zero interaction with the political leadership of GB. They are largely unaware of the political process in GB, formerly known as the Northern Areas of Pakistan. Therefore, their advice on GB is both unwelcome and unsolicited,” Zafar told Dawn.com, adding that “Hurriyat’s politics on the issue of GB is politics of exclusion”.

Jammu based author and political scientist Rekha Chowdhry says that Pakistan’s proposal on GB did not trigger a strong response from the Indian government which indicates that both countries are more or less comfortable with the earlier four-point formula proposed by Pakistan’s former President, Parvez Musharraff.

Ms Chowdhry adds that for all practical reasons Gilgit-Baltistan is being treated as a separate part.

“It is quite clear that for separatists in Kashmir it is a major issue. They are banking on Pakistan. But Pakistan’s latest move is indeed a major blow to their brand of politics. You have to understand that morality is absent in hard politics,” she told Dawn, adding that “Pakistan has taken this position because of its internal compulsions.”

“Positions of Pakistan and Kashmiris on the future of Jammu and Kashmir have not been harmonising all the time. From Pakistan’s perspective, Kashmir becomes an impediment in the country’s economic interest,” she added.

Earlier, India had raised strong objections against Pakistan’s decision to hold elections in GB earlier.

The Indian government officially said that conducting elections in GB, which forms a part of Pakistan-administered Kashmir (PaK), was an attempt to “camouflage the forcible and illegal occupation” of the region.

Official spokesperson of India's Ministry of External Affairs, Vikas Swarup, had told journalists that “the entire state of Jammu and Kashmir, which includes the regions of GB, is an integral part of India. The elections in GB on June 8, under the so-called Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Government Order, is an attempt by Pakistan to camouflage its forcible and illegal occupation of the regions. We are concerned by the continued efforts by Pakistan to deny the people of the region their political rights and the efforts being made to absorb these territories.”