A week after a committee headed by Sartaz Aziz, Foreign Affairs Advisor to Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, recommended converting the Gilgit-Baltistan region into the country’s fifth province, the British Parliament gave a blazing shocker to Pakistan.
In a resolution passed by British lawmakers, Gilgit-Baltistan was declared as a legal and constitutional part of Jammu and Kashmir. Known as “the mother of all parliaments”, the British Parliament also termed the ongoing construction of the US$54 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) as “illegal”.
This has bolstered New Delhi’s stand which claims whole Kashmir, including its parts occupied by Pakistan as those belonging to India. In this context, a resolution was passed unanimously by the Lok Sabha on February 22, 1994, in which Pakistan was asked to vacate the areas of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, which they (Pakistanis) have occupied through aggression.
India is equally peeved at China’s arrogance to set up the multi-billion dollar CPEC project, which passes through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. “China is very sensitive about its sovereignty. The economic corridor passes through an illegal territory, an area that we call Pak-occupied Kashmir. You can imagine India’s reaction at the fact that such a project has been initiated without consulting us,” Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar said at the second Raisina Dialogue, held in New Delhi in January this year.
In his words, the CPEC violates Indian sovereignty, exactly what the British parliamentarians have also maintained in their resolution. “The forced and illegal construction” of the CPEC has interfered with the disputed territory, the resolution passed in the British Parliament said. It also blamed Pakistan of changing the demographic situation of Gilgit-Baltistan in violation of State Subject Ordinance. In the 1970s, the then Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had abrogated the State Subject Ordinance to allow Sunni Muslims to settle down in the Shia-dominated Gilgit-Baltistan.
What Has Triggered British Parliament to Pass the Resolution?
The Pakistan government’s planned move to declare the Gilgit-Baltistan region as the country’s fifth province seems to have egged British parliamentarians on to pass a resolution against Pakistan. A strategic northern frontier located at the confluence of three geographical regions—southern, central and eastern Asia, Gilgit-Baltistan was taken on a 60-year lease by the British in 1935. When it was under the lease, the area was protected by armed forces called the Gilgit Scouts.
Major W.A. Brown and Captain A.S. Mathieson were two key British military officials who used to supervise the Gilgit Scouts. After India got independence on August 15, 1947, the British colonial rulers handed over the territory back to Maharaja Hari Singh. With this, they also gave on loan these two British military officials to Maharaja Hari Singh to look after the defence of the area until an alternative arrangement was found.
But as soon as Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession on October 31, 1947, British commander Major W.A. Brown revolted against the king and he defected to Pakistan on November 1. Encouraged by this development, the Pakistan soldiers occupied Gilgit-Baltistan on November 4. Since then, it has been under Pakistan’s administrative control.
In 1963, just a year after the Indo-China war in 1962, Pakistan gifted a significant portion, say about 5,000-to-8,000 square kilometres of Gilgit-Baltistan, to China. Soon things started developing fast after China invested billions of dollars for its CPEC project running through the area.
Experts say that British parliament’s resolution reflects growing frustration among British lawmakers over on-going violation of fundamental rights of people in the area, China’s insensitive destruction of ecology and environmental degradation of this Himalayan region for its CPEC project, and the Pakistan government’s plan to impose sovereignty over the geographical entity without bothering about the ground reality.
It is a disputed area. India and Pakistan have not yet settled the dispute over the entire area, considered to be a part of Jammu and Kashmir.
What Would be India’s Step?
India has not officially commented on the British parliamentary resolution, yet, New Delhi sounded in no uncertain terms about its stand on the area. It has asked Pakistan to vacate the area forthwith. Gopal Baglay, the External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson has already made it clear that any such step by Pakistan would not be able to hide Pakistan’s illegal occupation of the parts of Jammu and Kashmir.
Also, there is no plan on India’s part to go to international court of justice to get the issue resolved through legal ways, nor is it willing to raise it at the United Nations (UN). It fears that the Jammu and Kashmir will become an international issue, once it will get risen in the UN.
British parliamentarians’ action has proved to be a shot in the arm for India. It will like that more powerful voices like the US, Russia and others follow the British suit and pass a resolution regarding Gilgit-Baltistan in their parliaments.