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Pakistan makes new move amid India-China standoff, PM Imran Khan to declare Gilgit-Baltistan as separate province

Sept. 18, 2020, 11:43 a.m.

Islamabad: Even as the military standoff between India and China continues at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, Pakistan is trying to take advantage of the volatile situation.

Pakistan has adopted a new approach on Gilgit-Baltistan. Pakistan has decided that it will now give Gilgit-Baltistan the status of a separate province and elections will also be held there.

Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan will go to Gilgit on Friday. It is believed that Imran Khan will make a formal announcement that Gilgit-Baltistan will be accorded the status of a separate province on Friday.

In fact, Pakistan had released its new map only a few weeks ago, in which it directly declared the disputed regions with India as its own.

According to information from sources, the government of Pakistan plans to make Gilgit-Baltistan the fifth province of the country after two years of Islamabad-controlled council powers, which were transferred to the local assembly.

The government’s plans were disclosed by Ali Amin Gandapur, the federal minister for Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan affairs, during a conversation with journalists in Islamabad. He said that the region would be given the status of a full province with constitutional rights such as representation in both houses of parliament. The media report said that Prime Minister Imran Khan is expected to visit the region soon and make a formal announcement about the change.

“After consultation with all stakeholders, the federal government has decided in principle to give constitutional rights to Gilgit-Baltistan. Our government has decided to fulfill the promises made to the people there,” he said. 

Gandapur also said that subsidies and tax exemptions will not be withdrawn from the region after giving constitutional rights. 

“Until the people there stand on their feet, they will continue to enjoy this facility,” he added.

People familiar with the development said that the Pakistan Army was in touch with political parties regarding the changes. Imran Khan’s ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party is supporting the changes in Gilgit-Baltistan keeping an eye on the upcoming elections so that it can reap political benefits and form the next government in the region. 

Gandapur said that the election was likely to be held in mid-November. He said that preparations have been completed and the distribution of tickets by the PTI will start soon.

In 1999 the Supreme Court of Pakistan ruled that the people of Gilgit-Baltistan are Pakistani citizens and directed the federal government to initiate appropriate administrative and legislative measures. In 2009, the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order was introduced, under which the Northern Territories were renamed Gilgit-Baltistan and the region was given province-like status, but without representation in Parliament.

In 2015, a committee constituted by the federal government proposed to grant Gilgit-Baltistan the status of a province, and three years later a new order transferred all powers of the local council to the local assembly. It seems that the Pakistan Army has taken this decision in view of the changes in Jammu and Kashmir since August.

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