Imran Khan announces provincial status for Gilgit-Baltistan despite anger at home, opposition from India
Despite protests in the country and strong opposition from India, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday officially announced the provincial status of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), which New Delhi asserts is part of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.
Khan used the occasion to blame India for the Shia-Sunni sectarian violence in the country, saying “the most racist government” was in power there.
New Delhi had strongly protested Pakistan’s move to make GB its fifth province and to hold legislative elections there later this month, asserting that Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh, including Gilgit and Baltistan, are an integral part of India, and Pakistan had “no locus standi on territories illegally and forcibly occupied it.”
Khan said that his government had taken the decision to turn the region into a province, “keeping in mind the UN Security Council’s resolutions.”
GB, formerly Northern Areas, was earlier governed, with only limited autonomy, by the “Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order of 2009”.
Pakistan is facing strong domestic opposition from groups that accuse it of systematically exploiting GB of its resources and sharing no dividends with them. Any resistance is met with brutal government reprisal, with activists and leaders hounded, arrested and tortured.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of Pakistan’s 11-party opposition alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement, is among opponents of Pakistan’s GB move.
“A deal has been made over the blood of Kashmiris... Business is being done in the name of Kashmir diplomacy,” the cleric had said earlier and pledged “not to allow the partition of Kashmir”.
In his speech on Sunday, Khan said he could not announce or talk about development packages for the newly carved province given the upcoming local elections.
He said that special efforts were being taken to connect GB to the rest of Pakistan as the area had suffered due to poor connectivity.
“You will see in the coming days, our development plans will go there [backward areas],” he said.
Replying to criticism of the army by the opposition, Imran Khan said he could not stress enough the importance of a strong army for a nation’s security. “Pakistan is secure today because of its armed forces,” he said.
“Our army is the main reason why we haven’t suffered the same fate as many other Muslim countries.”
He praised the country’s intelligence agencies “for rendering ineffective India’s conspiracies to spread anarchy in the country.”
(With inputs from Agencies)