Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly known as the Northern Areas, is part of the greater Kashmir region. Pakistan has bifurcated occupied Kashmir into two administrative parts – Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Gilgit-Baltistan is bordered by Pakistan occupied Kashmir in the south, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the west, Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan in the north, Xinjiang region of China in the east and northeast, and the Line of Control in the southeast.
Gilgit-Baltistan was previously named “Northern Areas”. Northern Areas was formed as a separate administrative unit in 1970 after amalgamation of the former Gilgit Agency, the Baltistan district and several small princely states.
Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009
Since 1947, Gilgit-Baltistan is under control of Pakistan. However, it has not been awarded a status of province. In 2009, Pakistan passed Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order. The order claimed to grant self-rule and limited autonomy to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.
The order provided for elected Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly and Gilgit-Baltistan Council. The Governor of Gilgit-Baltistan has been made the constitutional head and the Chief Minister of Gilgit-Baltistan, elected by the Legislative Assembly of the Gilgit-Baltistan, serves as the head of the government in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Evaluation of the order
The order aimed to grant Gilgit-Baltistan a province-like status without constitutionally making it a part of Pakistan.
However, the real power rests with the governor and not with the elected chief minister. Even in comparison to Legislative Assembly, Legislative Council has been given larger powers. Greater role of Governor and larger powers with Legislative Council implies that Centre has strong control over Gilgit-Baltistan administration.
The people of Gilgit-Baltistan want merger into Pakistan with the status of a separate province to Gilgit-Baltistan and oppose integration with Kashmir. The Pakistani government is reluctant to merge Gilgit-Baltistan as a separate province because such a decision would jeopardise its demands for the whole Kashmir.
Gilgit-Baltistan Order-2018 replaces the GB Empowerment and Self-Governance Order of 2009. The order seeks to grant the status of a province to Gilgit- Baltistan.
The order proposes change in name of Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly to Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly. It also intends to grant all the powers exercised by the other provincial assemblies under Pakistan Constitution to the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly. The order also intends to make changes in Judiciary and executive on lines of provincial set up.
Chinese pressure to grant Gilgit-Baltistan provincial status
Pakistani authorities were already deliberating over the idea of giving provincial status to Gilgit-Baltistan. The construction of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) accelerated the need for granting the status. It is said that China has been putting pressure on Pakistan to settle the status of Gilgit-Baltistan because China has made massive investments into Gilgit-Baltistan as part of CPEC project.
India has reiterated its territorial claim over Gilgit-Baltistan. The official statement said, “The entire state of Jammu and Kashmir including the so-called ‘Gilgit-Baltistan’ areas are an integral part of India by virtue of accession in 1947. Any action to alter the status of any part of the territory under forcible and illegal occupation of Pakistan has no legal basis whatsoever, and is completely unacceptable.”