At a special meeting of the Pakistani cabinet, the administrative region of the Northern Areas was renamed as “Gilgit-Baltistan” and a special administrative structure was put into place on Saturday.
The Northern Areas of Pakistan are seen as a part of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, which India has claims on.
The strategically located Northern Areas, which borders the North West Frontier Province to the west, Afghanistan and China to the north, will have rights akin to those of Pakistan’s four provinces, said Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
The "Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order 2009", unveiled by Gilani at a news conference, is also aimed at giving the Northern Areas "full internal autonomy."
Prior to this, the Northern Areas were ruled by Islamabad through an unelected council and nominated officials. Now elections will be held and a Chief Minister will run the administrative set up.
A fifteen-member council will be appointed and the region will now have an elected assembly as well as a governor and a chief minister.
However, there is some confusion over the status of “Gilgit -Baltistan” as it is not a full fledged province.
Aqel Khan, a political analyst, said such a move “would require an amendment in the constitution.” “Gilgit-Baltistan” is also significant because of its mix of population. The area has a large Sunni, Shia and Ismaili population. The move has been welcomed by most quarters although it falls short of demands for a full province.