Pakistan on Monday conducted elections in the disputed Gilgit Baltistan region to choose a new legislative assembly, days after India said the exercise amounted to covering up the “forcible and illegal occupation” of the area.
Polling for 24 seats of the Gilgit-Baltistan assembly began at 8 am and continued till 4pm. More than 600,000 voters were eligible to exercise their franchise.
Reports said balloting was temporarily suspended at some places because of clashes between workers of political parties. Order was restored by the paramilitary Pakistan Rangers.
Tight security arrangements were put in place across Gilgit-Baltistan to ensure smooth polling and the army was deployed in some areas of the region that has witnessed a spurt in militant violence.
A total of 272 candidates contested the elections. All leading parties, including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's PML-N, Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf and Pakistan People's Party (PPP), were in the fray. Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf's All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) fielded 13 candidates.
This was the second time Pakistan has held polls to elect an assembly in Gilgit Baltistan since the region was given near-provincial status in 2009. The region was earlier known as the Northern Areas.
In New Delhi, minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh said even Pakistan’s Constitution does not recognise Gilgit Baltistan as part of the neighbouring country.
“I think as far as Gilgit Baltistan is concerned, India’s position has been very clear right from the beginning. Even the Constitution of Pakistan does not recognise it as a part of Pakistan. And therefore, any such kind of initiative undertaken by Pakistan over there clearly smacks of some mischievous desires,” Singh told the media.
He said a resolution passed by India’s parliament in 1994 states there is “nothing outstanding as far as Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan is concerned, except for retrieving the portions of Jammu and Kashmir, including Gilgit Baltistan, which continue to remain under the illegal occupation of Pakistan”.
Last week, India opposed Pakistan’s move to hold elections in the disputed region, saying it amounted to covering up its “forcible and illegal occupation” of the area.
“We are concerned at the continued efforts by Pakistan to deny the people of the region their political rights, and the efforts being made to absorb these territories,” external affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup had said about the polls.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office reacted to Swarup’s comments by saying India’s stance amounted to “interference” in its internal affairs.
Pakistan Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif too claimed the Kashmir issue was “an unfinished agenda of the partition”.
Sharif, a hardliner who lost his eldest brother in the 1971 war with India, said Kashmir and Pakistan are “inseparable”.
His remarks were the latest in a string of comments by the country’s civil and military leadership against India.